China is the world’s largest energy consumer and leading carbon dioxide emitter. Last year, coal accounted for a staggering 65 percent of its energy consumption, and China accounts for half of global coal consumption, according to a new Greenpeace report. Its coal use and emissions grew by an average of 9 percent from 2000 to 2010, but this trend has taken a dramatic twist in the last few years, as China takes on new coal reduction targets. If achieved, these targets can help curb global carbon emissions and fuel renewable energy development.
New coal control measures
In China, 12 of 34 provinces that account for 44 percent of all coal use are implementing coal-control measures — including a 50 percent reduction target for Beijing by 2017 over 2012 levels, according to the Greenpeace report entitled, “The End of China’s Coal Boom.” This is an ambitious goal because 11 of the 12 provinces have experienced a rapid increase in coal use until very recently. If realized, the coal-control measures will result in a 350 million ton reduction in coal consumption by 2017.
China’s coal use growth rate falls
Although not widely known, the growth of coal consumption in China has slowed down since 2011 in most provinces and grew by a mere 2.6 to 3 percent in from 2011 to 2013, according to the Greenpeace report. Although this figure may still sound daunting, consider that Chinese coal consumption grew by 19.2 percent in 2003 and 9.4 percent in 2010. China’s coal reduction targets will only help fortify this downward trend.
Renewable energy fills in the gap
As China’s coal use wanes, its renewable energy capacity has been expanding rapidly according to the 2013 “Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race?” report, conducted by Pew Charitable Trusts. China attracted $54 billion in renewable energy investment in 2013 and was the global leader in wind energy investment, with 38 percent of the global total; it now has the largest clean energy capacity at 191 GW. China has also set ambitious 2014 goals of bringing 14 GW of new solar capacity and 18 GW of new wind capacity online.
A switch away from coal to renewable energy in China will impact global renewable energy markets by boosting both demand and supply. With a market as big as China, this can have a major impact on the oversupply that has occurred in the solar manufacturing segment, coupled with falling prices. A 20-year solar incentive in China will help create stability in a rapidly shifting market and demonstrates a long-term commitment by the government to support renewable energy growth.
High magnitude coal reduction initiative
When considering the impact of these coal reduction goals compared to “business-as-usual,” the impact is significant. The European Union realized a 279 million ton reduction of carbon emissions from 1996 levels by 2010. In China, by comparison, the coal reduction targets if achieved will result in a 699 million ton reduction in carbon emissions by 2017. China’s targeted coal reduction will occur within the timeframe of 2013 to 2017, thus being very rapid.
What’s the rush?
Climate change-fueled storms and rising sea level has cost China $2.6 billion in 2013. According to the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), sea levels have risen 2.9 millimeters on average in China since 1980, which is faster than the global average. Rising sea levels can threaten mega-cities such as Tianhin, Shanghai and Guanzhou. There are plans to reduce the harm from this by building submerged breakwater construction and solidifying embankments in vulnerable areas, while carbon emissions goals help prevent the problem overall.
Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Building & Design, Triple Pundit, Urban Farm, and Solar Today. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.