China’s Renewables Trumped by Coal

The John E. Amos coal-fired power plant in West Virginia is owned and operated by Appalachian Power, a subsidiary of American Electric Power. (Photo by Cathy Haglund)
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BY JACK DINI – Civitas think-tank recently reported, “Wind power is a ‘folly’ which is crippling consumers with increased energy costs.” Civitas claims that ‘unwarranted support’ for wind power is ‘hindering genuine cleaner energy’ and stopping the UK from effectively reducing its carbon dioxide emissions.  The report states wind power is ‘unreliable’ and requires back-up power—meaning the energy users pay twice.” (1)


However, Friends of the Earth argues that China is also investing in renewables and that the UK has a chance to establish itself at ‘the forefront of new technology that pretty soon every country in the world will be needing.’ (2) Great rhetoric, but hardly consistent with the real facts.

Let’s look at some recent information about China and renewables.

Ye Qi, a professor of environmental policy at Tsinghua University and director of the Climate Policy Initiative, both in Beijing, said China has made enormous strides over the past five years in both reducing energy intensity and developing renewable energy projects.  (3)

But, he said, China’s overall energy use has skyrocketed with its growth, keeping renewable sources just a sliver of the country’s overall share [for example, solar power accounts for only one-hundredth of  1 percent of China’s electricity generation.(4]  Meanwhile, he said, China’s emissions which were 20 percent higher than the United States in 2010, could be as high as 49 percent more by 2015. By 2015, China will emit nearly 50 percent more greenhouse gases than the United States. (3)

After burning an extra 95 million tons last year, China will soon account for half the coal burned on the planet. Chinese energy consumption rose almost three fold from 2000 to reach 32 billion tons of coal equivalent in 2010. On current trends, it will rise to almost 5 billion tons by 2020. (5)

It ought to have been a centerpiece of China’s effort to reduce smog, but the government has quietly postponed plans to clean the fumes from truck and bus exhaust pipes. The 18-month delay of new diesel emissions standards, which was announced this month, runs contrary to the authorities’ promises to tighten controls on air pollution. (6)

The carbon dioxide issue is not about the United States anymore. Robert Bryce reports, “Sure, the US is the world’s second-largest energy consumer. But over the past decade, carbon dioxide emissions in the US fell by 1.7 %. And according to the International Energy Agency, the US is now cutting carbon emissions faster than Europe, even though the European Union has instituted an elaborate carbon-trading scheme. Why? The US is producing vast quantities of cheap natural gas from shale, which is displacing higher-carbon coal. Meanwhile, China’s emissions jumped by 123% over the past decade and now exceed those of the US by more than two billion tons per year.” (7)

Projections put China’s emissions in 2030 in the range of 500% above 1990 levels. Globally, this translates to about 40% of all new energy-related CO2 emissions between now and 2030. If China’s emissions continue to grow at the rate of 10% per year, by the year 2040, it could be emitting as much CO2 as the entire world is today. (8)


  1. Ruth Lea, “Electricity costs: The folly of wind power,” Civitas, January 2012
  2. David Williamson, “Civitas think-tanks report blasts wind power as a costly folly,”, February 2, 2012
  3. Steve Milloy, “China set to top US greenhouse gas output by almost 50%,”, February 3, 2012
  4. Cheryl K. Chumley, “Chinese solar companies losing money,” Environment & Climate News, 15, 12, February 2012
  5. Jonathan Watts, “China’s renewables surge dampened by growth in coal consumption,”
    The Guardian, January 12, 2012
  6. Jonathan Watts, “China quietly shelves new diesel emissions standards,” The Guardian, February 1, 2012
  7. Robert Bryce, “Five truths about climate change,”, October 6, 2011
  8. China Environment Series, Issue 11, 2010/2011, Jennifer L. Turner, Editor, Woodrow Wilson International School for Scholars, Page 8








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