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China’s Rising Coal Use Defies Forecasts

Radio Free Asia

China is gradually transforming its economy and patterns of energy consumption, but it may be decades before citizens see dramatic improvements in air quality, according to a recent report.

The finding this month by the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) came as an international group of climate scientists blamed an increase in China’s coal consumption for the first big rise in global greenhouse gas emissions since 2013.

The warning from the Global Carbon Project of a two-percent jump in 2017 emissions coincided with the IEA’s release of its long-range energy forecast and its first in-depth China analysis in the past 10 years.

In its 2017 Global Carbon Budget, the scientists’ group cited a projected three-percent rise in China’s coal use this year and a 3.5-percent increase in emissions as causes of the climate setback after three years of relative stability.

“The 2017 growth may result from economic stimulus from the Chinese government, and may not continue in the years ahead,” the scientists said during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.

Speaking at the conference, China’s top climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua acknowledged the findings but argued that the higher emissions were not the start of a trend.

“Carbon emissions do fluctuate, but a single indicator cannot reflect the whole picture,” Xie said in remarks reported by the official English-language China Daily.

The IEA’s long-term analysis as part of its annual World Energy Outlook was generally positive about the decarbonization trends of China’s transition to more sustainable economic growth and cleaner fuels.

Even so, some details of the 780-page study may raise concerns about how long it will take for China’s “war on pollution” to pay off with public health benefits in terms of exposure to fine particulates known as PM2.5, mainly from coal.

As it stands now, only about two percent of China’s nearly 1.4 billion people breathe air that meets World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the IEA said.

That proportion would rise to only three percent by 2040, even if China meets all the targets set in its expected economic, energy and environmental plans, according to the report.

The massive IEA study does not present an overarching theme, as the agency’s annual forecast did five years ago in predicting a “golden age of gas.”

Instead, it is a collection of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of implications of energy data points and emerging trends with consequences for the global economy and the environment.

Changes in the global scheme

Sweeping shifts are predicted as a result of factors including greater U.S. oil and gas production, lower costs for renewable energy, broader use of electricity and China’s economic transition, the IEA said.

China’s place in the global scheme has changed since the last major analysis. Projections of its energy use and emissions are falling behind those of India and Southeast Asia in long-term forecasts of world growth.

But it continues as the leading emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), with 28 percent of the world total in 2016, making its carbon reduction efforts critical to both climate change and smog.

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