China Cuts in Coal Use May Mean World Emissions Peak Before 2020

Global greenhouse-gas emissions may peak before 2020 if China achieves a plan to drastically cut its coal use, reducing carbon production equivalent to Australian and Canadian output combined, Greenpeace says.

Twelve of 34 Chinese provinces have set targets that would lower consumption of the fuel by 655 million metric tons by the end of the decade, the environmental campaign group said today. That would reduce CO2 emissions by 1,300 million tons by 2020, according to Li Shuo, a policy officer at Greenpeace.

“We’re seeing the end of China’s coal boom,” Li told reporters in Berlin. The country may help to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a barrier deemed crucial by climate scientists, acting as a “game-changer” for efforts to limit global warming, he said.

While about half of global CO2 emissions growth in the past decade came from coal consumption in China, the country’s use of the fuel is already tapering off, Li said. Consumption grew 2.6 percent last year, down from 9.4 percent in 2011, he said.

China has sought to cut air pollution that’s accompanied three decades of double-digit economic growth amid rising public concern that smog and environmental degradation are affecting the nation’s health and economy. The push to ditch coal may inject fresh momentum into United Nations talks over adopting an agreement on fighting climate change next year, Li said.

China was the top producer and importer of coal in 2012 and has built dozens of new coal-fired power plants in the past decade, according to the World Coal Association trade lobby.

The fuel, spewing out about twice the greenhouse gases as natural gas when burnt, generated 30.3 percent of the primary energy in 2011, the highest level since 1969, the World Coal Association industry lobby said. It was 29.9 percent last year.