China is currently the largest consumer of coal, burning around 50 percent of all demand for the black rock dug up from the Earth. So it is little wonder that one of the many arguments against action on climate change is why bother when China continues to burn so much. But it seems that those days are numbered, as a new report has found that China has passed peak coal consumption.
It has been thought for a while that this might be the case, but as it's almost too good to be true, experts have been cautious of lauding this impressive milestone, just in case the data was a blip. But a new study in Nature Geoscience suggests that the drop in coal consumption is not just a one-off, but a continuing trend. "I think it is a real turning point," Lord Nicholas Stern, climate economist at the London School of Economics and co-author of the analysis, told The Guardian.
Even though between 2000 and 2013, the consumption in China rose from 1.23 billion tonnes (1.36 billion tons) to a staggering 3.85 billion tonnes (4.24 billion tons), since then its consumption has started to fall at an ever-increasing rate. In 2014, it dropped by 2.9 percent, followed the next year by a decrease of 3.6 percent. This has been matched by a significant drop in its production, as mining for it has fallen by close to 10 percent in just the first half of 2016.
Thought to be a contributing factor is a major shift within the economy. Growth has started to fall, from between 9 and 10 percent to roughly 6 percent, something that is expected to continue. This, as a result, means that less and less coal will be burnt. This is also tied in with a change in China's economy away from manufacturing and industry, and more towards technology and service sectors.
Another major impact on the burning of coal is due to the horrendous levels of air pollution that have blighted many of the nation’s larger cities in recent years. "Red alerts" were issued in 10 cities earlier this year as hazardous smog blanketed much of north-east China, with officials warning people to stay indoors, stop school classes, and reduce the use of their vehicles. This has led to the issue of air pollution, in a large part contributed by coal, moving center and forward.
Many now hope that this could be the beginning of the end for coal, which almost all experts agree needs to be phased out fast if the Paris climate agreement is to be met.