China’s dependence on burning coal to meet its soaring energy demands has grown even more, with a new report saying that the country now accounts for nearly half of global coal consumption, meaning that the dense air pollution lingering over Chinese cities will likely only get worse.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Tuesday that China’s consumption of coal grew 9 percent in 2011, continuing an upward trend for the 12th consecutive year. In 2011, China’s coal use grew by some 325 million tons, representing 87 percent of the total increase that year.
“Of the 2.9 billion tons of global coal demand growth since 2000, China accounted for 2.3 billion tons,” or 82 percent, the EIA said, adding that now, China “accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption—almost as much as the entire rest of the world combined.”
China overtook the United States as the world’s leading energy user in 2011, but unlike the U.S., its main source of energy is coal.
China’s coal industry has been criticized recently after much of the country, including Beijing, was blanketed by a dense haze of smog that triggered a public backlash and led to many more Chinese donning breathing masks. The smog was so bad in Beijing that the authorities were forced to issue an unprecedented “orange fog warning.”
Some of the backlash focused on the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Science, with some bloggers calling for the sacking of certain officials in the agency.
Even though seven of the top ten cities in the world with the worst air pollution are in China, it doesn’t appear that China will stop its dependence on burning coal anytime soon. Just over a week ago, environmental group Greenpeace released a report saying that China will produce 625 metric tons of coal by 2015 and will generate another 1,400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
“Coal burned to produce electricity already pumps more [carbon dioxide] into the atmosphere than any other source of conventional power,” Greenpeace said.
In November, research suggests that out of the 1,200 new coal power plants, 363 would be located in China, according to the World Resources Institute.
The EIA said in September that “economic growth” is what continues to spur China’s demand for energy. Aside from coal, China is the world’s second-largest consumer of oil (after the U.S.) and the fourth-largest consumer of natural gas in 2011. Nuclear power only accounted for 2 percent of total electricity generation.
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