• China revises higher 2012 coal consumption by 17 percent
  • Coal use also increased for 2010 and 2005, NBS data show

China’s been emitting more carbon dioxide than previously thought judging by revised coal use data for the past decade.

The world’s biggest polluter consumed about 4.1 billion metric tons of coal in 2012, or about 591 million tons more than earlier reported, according to the 2015 Statistical Yearbook from China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Use of the most-polluting hydrocarbon was also revised higher for 2010 and 2005, according to the latest report. The nation said last year it will limit coal consumption to about 4.2 billion tons by 2020.

China may need to raise the cap it set for coal use and “make more efforts to meet its target to reduce carbon emissions,” said Tian Miao, a Beijing-based analyst at North Square Blue Oak Ltd., a research company. “This won’t affect the trend of declining consumption of the fossil fuel.”

The revision sharpens the contrast between China’s past reliance on the fuel and promises by the world’s largest consumer to reduce its future use. The country is seeking to lower carbon dioxide emitted per dollar of economic output, boost the share of energy from renewables and halt total emissions from rising by 2030. China’s slowest economic growth in more than two decades has cut demand for thermal coal used for electricity generation while imports have slowed since 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Higher Peak

“China’s coal consumption peaked in 2013,” said Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies at the Cleveland-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “What the stats show now is that the peak is at a higher level.”

There’s a longer-term advantage for China to declare higher historical coal emissions. In the years ahead, 2015 may become a baseline for calculating emissions reductions worldwide as it’s the year the United Nations targets for the next big agreement on global-warming pollution.

China and France this week threw their support behind a deal that would require all nations to revise their pollution targets every five years. It’s part of the effort to reach an ambitious climate accord in Paris next month. China wants to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix and is seeking “cleaner and more-efficient” use of coal, according to the government’s latest five-year plan released this week.

‘Effort of Transparency’

French President Francois Hollande shrugged off China’s revisions, saying it suggests both that China is doing more to make clear the extent of its emissions and that the world must adopt a mechanism that will push for more ambitious cuts in the future.

“China has been making an effort at transparency, but it seems it has emitted more since 2000,” Hollande said Wednesday in Seoul. “This leads to two conclusions. China must respect what it indicated, which is that the peak should be reached in 2030. And second, that the Chinese accepted that the Paris conference must absolutely include revision clauses.”

Rapidly Changing

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported the revisions in September, based on preliminary data from China, and said they imply higher historical coal consumption by the country. There was no explanation in the final data from the NBS why the figures were changed and the bureau didn’t respond to faxed questions seeking comment.

Reasons for previous revisions in coal data include “disagreements between national totals and the sum of provincial reports, misalignment of reporting methods and inherent difficulties in achieving data accuracy in a constantly and rapidly changing market as large as China’s,” the EIA said in its earlier analysis. “Uncertainties remain in China’s coal data, which should be recognized in future analysis.”

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