China’s coal imports drop for first time since it became net importer

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China’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth and coal consumption have decoupled, suggesting a structural shift in Chinese economy.

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A recently published analysis compiled by Lauri Myllyvirta and Greenpeace International showed the unthinkable — Chinese coal consumption fell for the first time this century in the first half of this year. Even more striking is the fact that China’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth and coal consumption have decoupled, suggesting a structural shift in the Chinese economy.

Taken in sum, with potential policy shifts associated with the upcoming five year plan and China’s war on coal, these look like the first indications of an approaching peak in coal consumption.

Now, new statistics [source in Chinese] from August show another first: Chinese coal imports in the first eight months of 2014 dropped by 5.3 percent. This is the first time the import rate has dropped since the country became a net importer in 2009. More importantly, the industry forecast indicates an even steeper 8 percent drop by year’s end. So much for the Asian supercycle, Peabody Energy.

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But there is something far more important happening here than simply putting an end to the last remaining lifeline of the moribund U.S. coal industry. China has single handedly driven the growth in coal consumption we’ve seen over the past decade. But, it is increasingly clear that the time of unending coal growth is nearing an end.

Peak coal consumption is one thing, but avoiding the entrenched emissions of the enormous coal fleet China has already built is another. The crucial decisions to secure a peak in coal consumption — and reduce that consumption in absolute terms — will be made in China’s new five-year plan, currently under preparation and covering the years 2015-2020. That means all eyes are on China’s next moves in its war on air pollution.

For citizens struggling under the weight of ‘airpocalypse,’ those moves couldn’t come a moment too soon.

Justin Guay is campaigns director with Sierra Club, this story is co-authored by Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace International. First published in Huff Post. Reproduced with permission of author.

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1 Comment
  1. Adam Lucas 5 years ago

    I noticed in the recent ABC Four Corners report on Abbot Point and the dredging of the Barrier Reef that the rhetoric of the mining industry and of the Abbott Government to defend the continued expansion of coal mining has shifted from former Labor Minister Martin Ferguson’s deceitful claims about China needing Australian coal for all its new coal-fired power stations (it was using most of its imported Australian coal for steel manufacturing, and had only very recently become a big importer anyway), to ‘pulling the Indian people out of poverty’ and ‘who are we to deny them the opportunity to secure cheap, affordable energy’, etc, etc. I’ve heard the same tosh being spouted by other climate change denier friends and acquaintances, but it’s now very clear that the economics of coal versus renewables has been and will continue to be driven by policy decisions made by Australia’s biggest trading partners, no matter what any of us think is right or wrong.

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