China sets a cap on coal by 2020

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26 November 2014

China has set a limit on its use of coal by 2020, according to recent Chinese officials’ statements. The announcement comes after China’s ‘game changing’ climate deal with the US last week, where for the first time China pledged to cut its CO2 emissions from 2030 - increasing its share of non-fossil energy to around 20% by 2030.

The new Chinese development plan sets an energy consumption level of no more than 28% higher than its 2013 total, with the limit for coal set to 16% for the end of the decade.

China is the world's largest producer and consumer of coal. Earlier this year, the US Energy Information Administration reported that in 2012 China produced and consumed almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, accounting for 46% of global coal production and 49% of global coal consumption.

Even if Chinese government is pushing to limit coal use below 65% of total primary energy consumption by 2017, this fossil fuel dependence is already causing such dangerous pollution levels that in the southeast country air conditions are “somewhat similar to a nuclear winter,” scientists say.

However, NGO Greenpeace reports that this year China’s coal use is declining for the first time this century - while at the same time its economy is continuing to grow by 7.4%. “It may not be the peak yet,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, “but it is a sign that China is moving away from coal.”

To improve its air quality and environment in general, the country will also launch its eagerly awaited national Emissions Trading Scheme in 2016, while experimenting with eight regional carbon markets.

"Every [carbon market] pilot has many different goals and patterns, and of course this is a trial and error pathway,” underlines Changhua Wu, Greater China Director, The Climate Group. “But what is truly remarkable is that the Government is showing how political commitments can be followed by bold actions. China can be an inspiring example for every nation that is willing to maintain high levels of productivity while looking at citizens’ need for healthier, cleaner air”.

While reducing its dependence on coal, China is hugely increasing its renewable energy capacity. In the first half of this year, according to its National Energy Administration, China added 3.3 Gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity - doubling the amount of the same period last year. Total photovoltaic installed is now more than 23 GW, with a goal of 35 GW for 2015. In comparison, the US has a total of about 12 GW of solar photovoltaic installed.

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