2014 was the first year of this century in which China’s coal consumption fell, according to recent statistics from the China National Coal Association reported by the country’s official Xinhua News Agency.
The figures, which also indicate falls in Chinese coal production and imports, have been attributed to several factors. According to Grenpeace East Asia, these include structural economic shifts away from heavy industry to new and more diversified sectors; industrial and energy efficiency improvements; and government policies to control coal use, along with a declining appetite for coal conversion projects such as coal-to-gas, due to concerns about economic viability, water impacts, and the air pollution crisis. At the same time China has experienced a rapid expansion of its renewable energy capacity, in particular in wind, solar and hydropower generation.
Greenpeace East Asia has welcomed these figures, suggesting they show that China’s coal consumption, which accounted for more than half of the global increase in CO2 emissions over the last decade, is finally decoupling from China’s economic growth. Fang Yuan, a spokesperson for Greenpeace East Asia, suggested that with ‘political determination on an energy revolution, and strong targets and measures’, China could reach its peak in coal use well before 2020. Greenpeace has further called for this to be made an official target in China’s 2016-2020 Five Year Plan.
Fang Yuan believes that ‘the end of China’s coal boom is evident’. Given the vast scale of coal consumption and use of coal for energy generation in China over recent decades, the impact on the global coal industry will be tremendous.