China Burns Much More Coal Than Reported: Unsettles Upcoming U.N. Climate Negotiations

Increase equal to about 70 percent of total U.S. annual coal consumption



China's statistical agency has dramatically revised upward the amount of coal that the country burns, according to a front page New York Times article. From the Times:

Illustrating the scale of the revision, the new figures add about 600 million tons to China's coal consumption in 2012 — an amount equivalent to more than 70 percent of the total coal used annually by the United States.

That's a lot of missing coal. For the upcoming U.N. climate change conference in Paris, the Chinese have submitted their intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to the goal of limiting future climate change. Announced with President Obama, the Chinese promised in their INDC that their greenhouse gas emissions will peak before 2030. The Times further reports:


"It's created a lot of bewilderment," said [Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research]. "Our basic data will have to be adjusted, and the international agencies will also have to adjust their databases. This is troublesome because many forecasts and commitments were based on the previous data." …

Jan Ivar Korsbakken, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, said that based on his preliminary analysis, the new data implied that China had released about 900 million metric tons more carbon dioxide from 2011 to 2013.

That would be an 11 percent increase in emissions, he said. For comparison, the International Energy Agency estimated before the revision that China had emitted 8.25 billion tons of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in 2012. Dr. Korsbakken, a physicist, emphasized that deeper analysis of the new data was needed before firm conclusions could be drawn.

This revised reporting highlights how hard it will be to monitor and audit emissions levels and cuts that 196 countries are promising to execute as part of the universal climate treaty that is supposed to be finalized in Paris this December.