(EnergyAsia, August 14 2015, Friday) — China’s coal consumption will continue to grow through 2030 despite the government’s efforts to cap the country’s carbon emissions and boost the role of renewables in the energy mix, said the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Citing Chinese government documents, the IEA said China expects to remain the world’s largest consumer and producer of coal over the next 15 years although its importance will shrink in the face of policy focus and state support for a more efficient, low-carbon economy.

Coal accounts for the bulk of China’s energy-related pollution, rising from around 2.7 gigatonnes of the carbon emissions in 2000 to over 7.2 giga-tonnes in 2013. The government of President Xi Jinping expects it to hold steady at between 7.5 and 7.7 giga-tonnes from 2020 and 2030 as the other two fossil fuels, oil and gas, will play an increasingly bigger role in China’s energy mix. The combined oil and gas share in China’s fossil fuels emissions is seen rising from around 10% in 2000 to 16% in 2013 and to just under 25% by 2030.

Despite the projected energy demand growth slowdown over the next 15 years, the IEA said China expects to produce 2.5 times as much as energy-related carbon emissions as the US, the world’s next largest polluter, in 2030. In an earlier report, the Paris agency forecast that China’s coal demand would grow by 2.6% a year through the rest of this decade.

China’s massive coal-fired power sector

China’s electricity demand is projected to increase by 75% over the next 15 years to become twice as large as the world’s second-largest global electricity market, the US.

The bulk of that electricity demand will be met by coal-fired power plants that were constructed since the turn of the century. The IEA expects those plants to generate 4.9 giga-tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030.

“The scale and age of China’s existing coal-fired power generation capacity highlights the risk of high carbon lock-in to its energy supply infrastructure,” said the IEA.

Around 95% of China’s existing coal capacity is projected to still be in operation in 2030, with another 345 GW of net new capacity to be installed that year.

Mitigation measures

To partly mitigate China’s carbon footprint, the government has set a range of targets for renewables — hydro, biomass, solar and wind — to account for a combined 15% of the country’s primary energy consumption by 2020 and 20% by 2030 from around 9% in 2012. It also wants to reduce the economy’s carbon intensity by 40% to 45% by 2020 from 2005 levels.

To achieve these energy and climate goals, Beijing has announced other mid-term targets by 2020: reduce the economy’s dependence on coal to less than 62% from 66% in 2012, reduce the CO2 intensity of industry by half, launch a nationwide emissions trading scheme and introduce more stringent fuel-economy standards in transport.

These goals were declared as part of the US-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation in November 2014.