China has long been known for its consumption of coal — with photos of smoggy cities making headlines numerous times in recent memory. However, it appears the world’s top fossil fuel emitter is getting ready to clean up its act as it formally joined the Paris climate agreement along with the USA yesterday.
In spite of its reputation for air pollution, and late ratification of the COP21 agreement, China is ostensibly on its way to becoming a global leader in renewable energy. In 2015, the country’s solar energy capacity increased by 74 percent and its wind energy capacity was upped 34 percent. It’s worth noting that coal consumption also dropped by 3.7 percent in the same year.
Earlier this year, Nick Mabey, the CEO of climate change think tank E3G, noted: ““Twenty years ago Europeans were still teaching China how to draft environmental law.” And while that may be the case, China is now putting showing its green-energy forebears how it’s done. Last year, sales of electric vehicles in Asia’s largest country were 50 percent higher than in the EU, and in 2014 China spent more on renewable research and development than Europe did.
It has been estimated that by the end of the decade, over 15 percent of China’s energy capacity will come from sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases. Admittedly, that’s no measly number — but the reality is coal will still remain in use for decades.
China may be “cleaning up” its coal-fired capacity in order to make power plants more efficient, though this isn’t sounding the death knells for greenhouse gases like some environmentalists have hoped for. Ultimately, the country has limited oil and gas reserves, and is thus reliant on coal to meet its energy needs. Emissions are predicted to peak in 2030, but until then, coal is likely to remain king.