Backyard in Datong with coal (photo by Peter Van den Bossche)
Good news! China's coal consumption fell by 2.9 percent in 2014, the first drop in 14 years, according to official Chinese energy statistics released yesterday. Glen Peters of the Global Carbon Project calculates that China's CO emissions have also fallen, by 0.7 percent, for the first time this century. So contrary to grumbling in the U.S. Congress about the strength, or even existence, of China's climate commitments, it's clear that China's efforts to cut its coal consumption and carbon emissions are not only real but already producing results.
Courtesy of Glenn Peters/Responding to Climate Change
Here are three reasons that China is acting on climate change and air pollution:
- National war on pollution: Much of the drop in China's coal consumption can be attributed to efforts to tackle the country's staggering air pollution. China's air pollution control action plan, adopted in September 2013, focuses heavily on cutting coal consumption in its three most polluted regions, surrounding Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Some cities, including Beijing, are already starting to see some improvement in air quality, though the smog is still so bad that the mayor has declared the city "unlivable." Overall, the situation is still dire, as the air quality in 66 of China's 74 major cities failed to meet basic standards last year. As a result, we expect the pressure to intensify for China to move further away from its heavy reliance on coal.
It is still too early to predict just how quickly China will phase out coal, though a number of analysts believe that China's coal use is very likely to peak before 2020. Yet as Joe Romm, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and the Founding Editor of Climate Progress, recently said, one thing is abundantly clear: "This reversal on coal utterly refutes the GOP claim that China's recent climate pledge with the United States 'requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years.'"