The Growing Irrelevance of U.S. Climate Policy

by Marlo Lewis on January 31, 2013

in Features

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The world will burn around 1.2 billion more tons of coal per year in 2017 than it does today — an amount equal to the current coal consumption of Russia and the United States combined.

Today’s Climatewire (subscription required) summarizes data and projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) from which we may conclude that EPA regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is increasingly irrelevant to global climate change even if one accepts agency’s view of climate science.

Basically, it all comes down to the fact that China’s huge and increasing coal consumption overwhelms any reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions the EPA might achieve.

From the Climatewire article:

Chinese coal consumption surged for a 12th consecutive year in 2011, with the country burning 2.3 billion tons of the carbon-emitting mineral to run power plants, industrial boilers and other equipment to support its economic and population growth.

In a simple but striking chart published on its website, the U.S. Energy Information Administration plotted China’s progress as the world’s dominant coal-consuming country, shooting past rival economies like the United States, India and Russia as well as regional powers such as Japan and South Korea.

China’s ravenous appetite for coal stems from a 200 percent increase in Chinese electric generation since 2000, fueled primarily by coal. Graph courtesy of U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

In fact, according to EIA, the 325-million-ton increase in Chinese coal consumption in 2011 accounted for 87 percent of the entire world’s growth for the year, which was estimated at 374 million tons. Since 2000, China has accounted for 82 percent of the world’s coal demand growth, with a 2.3-billion-ton surge, the agency said.

“China now accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption — almost as much as the rest of the world combined,” EIA said of the latest figures.

 Climatewire also observes:

The rising consumption numbers reflect a 200-plus percent increase in Chinese electricity generation since 2000, with most of the new power coming from coal-fired power plants. Chinese growth averaged 9 percent per year from 2000 to 2010, more than twice the 4 percent global growth rate for coal consumption. And when China is excluded from the tally, growth in coal use averaged only 1 percent for the rest of the world over the 2000-2010 period, according to EIA. . . .

According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, China’s share in global coal consumption is more than twice that of the demand for oil in the United States. And last year China reigned as both the world’s No. 1 coal producer (3.7 billion metric tons) and the world’s top buyer of foreign coal, with an estimated 270 million tons of imports, according to the China Coal Transportation and Distribution Association.

In its latest projections on global coal demand, issued last month, IEA said that by 2017 coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s leading energy source, with every region of the world except the United States relying more heavily on the carbon-intensive energy resource.

In fact, the world will burn around 1.2 billion more tons of coal per year in 2017 than it does today — an amount equal to the current coal consumption of Russia and the United States combined, IEA noted.

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