One of the world’s biggest environmental challenges is getting China off coal. The country has accomplished a lot of things in the past few decades, bringing hundreds of millions of people out of an almost medieval level of poverty, but the breakneck pace of modernization resulted in some massive problems that need to be corrected as fast as possible, and coal is at the root of many of the biggest. For example, China is now the #1 emitter of CO2 (though a lot of it to manufacture things that people in other countries buy), it suffers 670,000 smog-related deaths each year, and pollution is now the #1 cause of social unrest.
Thankfully, there’s been signs that we might be reaching a tectonic shift in China’s relationship with coal. TreeHugger Sami has been covering the issue well, and the latest numbers out of the most populous country on Earth provide some more evidence of this.
The Guardian reports:
China’s coal use has fallen in 2015 across a wide range of measures and its national carbon emissions are likely to have fallen by about 3% as a result. There was a 3.5% drop in coal production, coal-fired electricity generation fell 2.8% and overall power generation dropped 0.2%, the first fall in 50 years. There were similar decreases in coal-intensive heavy industry such as iron, steel and cement.
Other recent developments were coal imports to China plummeting by 35% year-on-year in December 2015 and the government’s ban on new coal mines for three years.
“Today’s figures are sending the strong signal of the clear acceleration of China’s energy transition. I think thermal [coal] power generation will continue to drop with an annual speed of 2-4% and the non-fossil power generation will stay in a high growth rate of 20%,” said Li Junfeng, director general at the National Climate Change Strategy Research and International Cooperation Centre.
“The growth of non-fossil-fuel power generation in China in the past few years is the largest deployment of renewable energy in history,” said Greenpeace’s Lauri Myllyvirta. “This has enabled China to cover a 20% increase in power demand from 2011 to 2015 with clean energy while reducing coal use in the power sector, an astounding achievement.”
The maps below show coal pollution across China.
China isn’t alone in moving away from coal (though not as fast as we would want). The US is also transitioning, with a 10% year-on-year decline in coal use in 2015, accompanied by a 3-year moratorium of new federal coal mine leases.