Uncertainties around reductions in China’s coal use and CO2 emissions

Abstract

Chinese coal consumption dropped 2.9% in 2014 according to preliminary official statistics1 released in 2015. This was hailed as historic after China’s meteoric growth in the 2000s2. The International Energy Agency used it to estimate 1.5% reduction in Chinese fossil CO2 emissions for 20143, and an unprecedented 0.2% reduction in global emissions4. Similar preliminary coal consumption statistics are announced every year, and will be watched closely after China’s recent slowdown in emissions growth and pledge to peak emissions in 2030 or earlier. However, Chinese energy statistics are frequently revised and often contain large anomalies5,6, implying high uncertainty. For example, BP used different Chinese data to estimate a 0.9% increase in 2014 CO2 emissions7,8. Here, we analyse these preliminary announcements, with an approach that can be used to assess the robustness of similar future announcements. We show that the preliminary 2.9% reduction in coal consumption is inappropriate for estimating CO2 emissions, that coal-derived energy consumption stayed flat but is likely to have decreased in 2015, and that Chinese fossil CO2 emissions probably increased 0.8% in 2014. We also analyse recent revisions of official energy statistics, and find that they imply 925 MtCO2 (11.2%) higher emissions for 2013, and 7.6 GtCO2 (9.2%) higher total emissions for 2000–2013.

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Figure 1: Comparison of growth rates for different measures of coal use.
Figure 2: Revisions of coal use in National Economic Censuses (NECs).
Figure 3: Discrepancies in national and provincial coal consumption statistics.
Figure 4: Growth rates in total coal-derived energy use and correlated economic quantities.

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Acknowledgements

This work was conducted as part of the TransChina project (no. 235523) under the KLIMAFORSK programme funded by the Norwegian Research Council. We thank J. Xue, B. Meng and the research group of Q. Zhang for helpful information on data sources and revisions of Chinese energy statistics. We also thank D. Fridley for providing previous versions of the China Energy Databook, and T. Wei for help with accessing various past editions of the China Energy Statistical Yearbooks.

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J.I.K. and G.P.P. designed the research. J.I.K. obtained data and carried out analyses. R.M.A. assisted in obtaining and processing data. All authors contributed to writing the article.

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Correspondence to Jan Ivar Korsbakken.

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Korsbakken, J., Peters, G. & Andrew, R. Uncertainties around reductions in China’s coal use and CO2 emissions. Nature Clim Change 6, 687–690 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2963

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