China has said it will set a cap on coal consumption in 2020, following a statement from influential government think tank, which said China must cap its use of coal by 2020 to meet climate goals.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, released details of an energy strategy, which includes capping coal consumption at 4.2 billion t in 2020 and having coal be no more than 62% of the primary energy mix by that year.
Su Ming, a researcher with the Energy Research Institute (ERI), run by China's National Development and Reform Commission, said while "peak coal" needed to come in 2020, industrialised eastern regions needed to start to cut consumption earlier if targets were to be met.
"We are trying to tell provincial officials how much coal they could use under a restricted nationwide quota," Su said.
Beijing and the big consuming regions of Hebei, Tianjin and Shandong have already committed to cut coal use by a total of 83 million t over the 2012 – 2017 period, but Su said they need to cut at least 220 million tonnes by 2030 if they are to meet their air pollution goals.
Beijing alone would need to cut coal use by 99% to below 200,000 t by 2030, ERI said. Hebei, Tianjin and Shandong would have to make cuts of up to 27% by then.
The New York Times reported that coal burning for industrial use is the largest source worldwide of carbon dioxide emissions, which are the biggest catalyst of global climate change. China is the biggest emitter of greenhouses gases in the world, and it uses as much coal each year as the rest of the world combined. The power generation industry in China is responsible for half of the coal consumption in the country, and other heavy industries — steel and cement production, for example — are also direct users of coal.
The cap on coal use in 2020 is not necessarily a peak. In theory, coal consumption might increase beyond 2020, but some researchers say economic trends show the rate of growth in coal use slowing in coming years and peaking about 2020. That means the State Council’s timeline is consistent with the findings of those researchers.
Onlookers will closely wait to see if the numbers quoted by China’s State Council are formalised in the next five-year plan, the details of which will be released around March and will guide national development from 2016 to 2020.
According to Reuters, China is expected to announce a coal cap in the next five-year plan for 2016-2020, but it has not yet decided whether it will be binding, or how it will be allocated regionally.
The Shanghai Daily noted that China will likely look to increase use of natural gas, nuclear power and renewable energy as it transitions away from coal.
The announcement on coal use follows a recently announced goal of having carbon dioxide emissions peak around 2030. Last week, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China made an announcement together in Beijing in which each leader pledged to cut or limit carbon dioxide emissions from their countries.
Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson
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