Abstract painting of subject, generated by DALL-E 2

Bloody hell!!!

20 Aug 2007 - Bruno Prior

Global coal production, 1971-2006

Can we finally stop pretending that cap-and-trade and our other half-baked "carbon-pricing" mechanisms aren't simply offshoring our carbon?

Global coal production has increased by one-third in 3 years (and by over 50% since the turn of the millennium). Three-quarters of that increase is attributable to China.

Back in 1973, nearly three-quarters of the world's coal was produced in the OECD or the USSR. China accounted for less than 20%. We're producing nearly two-and-a-half times as much now globally, of which just over a third (35.3%) comes from the OECD and the former USSR. Nearly half (46.2%) of this much bigger total is produced in China.

And they're using pretty much all of it themselves. They export only 2.5% of their production. Their exports have actually declined in the past three years (from 93Mt to 63Mt), even as their production has rocketed (from 1,502Mt to 2,481Mt). And their imports have increased over the same period. At 37Mt/year, they are now the seventh-largest importer of coal in the world.

At this rate, all the coal in China will be gone in 46 years.* And that's if they stop adding to their consumption right now. As that graph indicates, they are showing little sign of slowing down. We know they are building a coal-fired power station (or two) a week. And they haven't stopped building factories either. If they carry on like this, they'll have used up their coal within 30 years. They'll have a massive infrastructure dependent on coal-burning whose costs have only partially been recovered, and will be dependent for fuel on imports at a scale that suppliers cannot begin to supply. Great plan!

But of course, this isn't purely for their own benefit. Whilst a decent share is going to internal development and consumption, a large share also goes to the production of (usually cheap and nasty) goods for exporting, much of it to the OECD. And despite dumping most of our energy-intensive production on the Chinese and importing many of the nick-nacks we either used to produce here or never realised we needed, we manage to carry on increasing the amount of energy we consume within our own border, and yet persuade ourselves that we are somehow virtuous because our direct energy-consumption and emissions are increasing less quickly than they otherwise might have done, and than they are doing in other parts of the world.

So don't blame the Chinese - they are just responding rationally to the incentives. Why the hell we want to create incentives to do this, though, I can't imagine. Scrap Kyoto and EU-ETS now, before they do any more harm.

Graph and figures from the IEA's recently-published booklet, Key World Energy Statistics 2007 (and the earlier, 2004, version).

* Chinese reserves based on figures from the 2007 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. According to BP, despite the rampant extraction, Chinese reserves have not changed an iota between 2003 and 2006. Now, I can understand that additional discoveries or reclassification of previously uneconomic reserves may replace worked reserves, but so precisely that the figures are identical every year?! I think not. It appears that BP cannot get recent data on Chinese reserves, and are therefore sticking with the figures they've got. In which case, there is every likelihood that real reserves are lower than given in their latest publication, and they will run out sooner.

Topics: Coal
Organisations: International
Locations: China

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