Is coal under threat of a Chinese green movement?

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche has rejected leading economist Ross Garnaut’s claims that China will cut its reliance on coal-fired power in coming decades.
Garnaut, a professorial research fellow in economics at the University of Melbourne, published a paper this week suggesting that in response to climate change, China will resort to alternate sources of thermal power in the future, such as gas and biomass, over the next decade.

Could China be ready to cut its consumption of thermal coal? Photo - Ingram Publishing.

Could China be ready to cut its consumption of thermal coal? Photo – Ingram Publishing.

The respected economist predicts China’s consumption of energy coal to decline to 1,808mt in 2020, down slightly from the 2013 figure of 1,826mt.

In the same timeframe, Garnaut forecasts energy generated from biomass in China to increase by around 80%, and energy from gas to almost quadruple.

“China’s leaders are aware that China shares with Australia and all other countries in the Asia Pacific region an interest in avoiding the international political instability that would emerge from the impact of unmitigated climate change,” Garnaut said on Monday.

While China’s growth has been “overwhelmingly” responsible for the uptick in global greenhouse gas emissions in the last six or seven years, Garnaut says, in recent years “the damaging effects of carbon pollution on health and longevity became more important in public discussion,” and “China… made strong commitments to change the relationship between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions.”

This, he says, signals the slowdown in demand for coal he is predicting over the next six years.

Michael Roche, the QRC’s chief executive, is far from convinced that China’s global climate awareness is a death knell for coal producers, however.

“Professor Garnaut is correct in observing that renewable energy is on the rise,” Roche says, “but the undisputed fact is that coal produces more than 40% of the world’s electricity and is forecast to overtake oil as the globe’s largest source of primary energy.

“China is the world’s largest consumer of energy with coal meeting almost 70% of its requirements.

“China uses as much coal as the rest of the world combined and the International Energy Agency says it will continue to drive coal demand for the rest of this decade, followed in the 2020s by India and ASEAN countries.”

Roche links Garnaut’s comments with those of the “anti-coal movement in Australia,” which he says “is trying to shut down our second largest export industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs based on two falsehoods”.

“The first is that global demand for coal is faltering when organisations including the International Energy Agency and their 29-member country forecasters say otherwise.

“The second is that Australia should stop exporting coal when it would be simply purchased from other sources with no benefit to the environment.”