If you thought the Volkswagen emissions scandal was bad, wait until you read this. …
China has just disclosed that it burns far more coal each year than it previously reported. China already leads the world in CO2 emissions, but it turns out that they have been burning as much as 17 percent more coal (an extra 600 million tons in 2012 alone), than they admitted until now.
The extra percentage translates to a massive amount – nearly a billion tons of greenhouse gases per year, according to estimates. To put it in perspective, the extra amount exceeds the total yearly fossil fuel emissions of the entire German economy. It’s also more than 70 percent of the total amount of coal burned each year in the United States.
The revised figures, which were released “without fanfare” by China’s statistical agency, show that the country’s coal consumption has been significantly underestimated for the past 15 years, and particularly over the last few years.
Discrepancies in the coal consumption estimates were corrected when data from a 2013 economic census were added to the totals. The census revealed “gaps in data collection, especially from small companies and factories,” according to The New York Times.
It appears that heavy industry, such as companies which make coal products, steel and cement, are predominantly to blame for the rise in consumption.
Is China serious about its commitment to curbing emissions?
The revised figures cast doubt on China’s commitment and ability to curb its CO2 emissions. Ironically, the new statistics were released only two days after Chinese president Xi Jinping and French President Francois Hollande announced that they would seek an “an ambitious and legally binding deal” at the upcoming UN COP21 climate talks in Paris this month.
Yang Fuqiang, a former Chinese energy official in China who is now an adviser to the Natural Resources Defense Council, said:
“This will have a big impact, because China has been burning so much more coal than we believed. It turns out that it was an even bigger emitter than we imagined. This helps to explain why China’s air quality is so poor, and that will make it easier to get national leaders to take this seriously.”
But will they take it seriously?
Chinese leaders have a history of promising whatever they feel is necessary to placate the rest of the world, while they conduct business as usual back home. Other than a few idealistic environmentalists, very few people believe that China is ready to make any fundamental and meaningful changes in their energy policies.
“China’s policy on CO2 emissions is – and always has been – a case of ‘tell the gullible Gwailo whatever they want to hear – then carry on building coal-fired power stations regardless.’
“If starry-eyed environmental campaigners want to big up China’s green credentials by being amazed by how much renewable energy the Chinese produce, then that’s great too. It means that idiot eco-evangelists aren’t going to look too closely at China’s generally appalling environmental track record – not just the smog in Beijing and the other big cities, but also the poisoning and devastation in areas where they mine the rare earth minerals which are a vital ingredient for those bat-chomping, bird-slicing eco-crucifixes the Gwailo imagine are so eco-friendly.”
Climate change not necessarily the issue
Whether or not you believe in climate change, the massive amounts of coal consumed in China do have a measurable negative impact. The pollutants released by burning coal cause serious health problems, and coal emissions are a big factor in the dense smog that envelops Beijing and many other Chinese cities on a daily basis.
It’s unclear how China will manage to clean up its act, even if the leadership is truly committed to doing so. At least they are admitting there is a problem and that they have not been entirely transparent about their coal consumption. One can only hope that this represents a step in the right direction.
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