For the second year running, the consumption of coal in China, the world’s largest consumer of the fossil fuel and consequently the largest emitter of CO2, has decreased. The news has risen the hopes of environmentalists that the nation might have reached peak carbon emissions, years earlier than the country’s intended target of 2030. However, it could be a little premature to make such claims after just two years of decline.
Last year saw the amount of coal that China burns for energy fall by 3.7 percent, following on from 2014, which saw the nation’s consumption of the fossil fuel fall by 2.9 percent. This turnaround is made all the more remarkable when you take into consideration that in 2013, the country’s use of coal actually increased. While the drop in 2014 was to some extent attributed to a stalling of China’s economy, that cannot explain 2015’s fall as the economy has actually been growing again.
The drop in coal use, which is the root cause of the majority of the pollution created by China and responsible for 83 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions, has also been met by an increase in the use of renewables. This combination has contributed to a 1-2 percent overall decrease in CO2 emissions. “These statistics show that China is on track to far surpass its Paris climate targets, which is great news for everyone,” Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior global campaigner on coal for Greenpeace, told AFP. “However, the trend is not moving as fast as it could.”
The decline in coal is seen by some as the result of the government’s goals to shift away from a carbon-intensive industry and move towards greener alternatives. The government has also been under intense pressure to sort out the massive problem the country has been having with air pollution, which has seen Beijing, among other cities, almost continuously shrouded in toxic smog that threatens the lives of many.
While the figures may sound great, there is also an issue here of whether or not the stats can be trusted. China is notoriously secretive when it comes to reporting on the exact facts and figures relating to all aspects of how the country is run, including official estimates of their carbon emissions. Last year, for example, it was reported that they had underestimated their coal consumption for 2012 by 17 percent, though it has to be said that even with this revision, the decreases in consumption seen in the last two years are still unaffected.
So it is with great trepidation that this new report is accepted. It has been tentatively thought that China might have passed peak carbon emissions in around 2013, so the new numbers fit nicely with that, but only time will tell if the country has genuinely started to wean itself off the dirty fuel.