China has put in place plans to “cap” coal consumption and production in 2020. For whatever reason, this is regularly rendered as “China has plans to peak coal consumption by 2020”. This is not exactly correct. The cap itself can, and probably will, simply increase after 2020. Another case of something being lost in translation.
And the same was true for China’s plan to cap coal production and consumption in 2015. This was rendered by CleanTechnica – not a reliable source of information – as “China to simply cap coal use within 3 years”.
Likewise today, people seem to be rather confident of the ability of China to both meet its 2020 coal consumption cap and to peak its emissions before 2030. And this belief in the ability of the Chinese Communist Party to deliver must be compared with the constant questioning of the ability of democratically elected governments to do the same.
But, here is a problem. China has already exceeded its 2015 cap on coal production, and it did so two years ago. You won’t know this if you read the BP Statistical Review of World Energy or any other set of published statistics. They still tell you that China produced 3.68 billion tonnes of coal in 2013.
However, buried in a recently published statistical communique from China is the following important note,
data have been revised based on the results of the Third National Economic Census. The output of coal in 2013 has been revised from 3.68 billion tons to 3.97 billion tons.
In other words, coal production in 2013 was revised upwards by 7.9%, and by 0.29 billion tonnes. This revision is the equivalent of 1/3 of the annual coal production of America.
And this raises another problem. There is a long history of official manipulation of statistics in China. Stats are juked so that targets can be met and so that officials can get promoted. This is well understood.
So it appears that just after exceeding its 2015 coal production cap two years early, China has recorded the first annual reduction in coal production this century. Should we believe this really happened, or should we be more than a little skeptical?
(h/t to Rory Johnston on Twitter)
Note on energy statistics in China
Previous revisions made to China’s energy statistics are discussed in this document by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This latest revision suggests that the statistics are not becoming more reliable, but in fact might be getting worse.