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Asia Will Build 500 Coal-Fired Power Plants This Year No Matter What the U.S. Does

Two stories about coal use in Asia highlight the futility of EPA’s efforts to reduce global carbon emissions by straightjacketing the U.S. economy with draconian carbon regulations.

First, there’s The New York Times story that China has been using more coal than anyone thought:

China, the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases from coal, has been burning up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government previously disclosed, according to newly released data. The finding could complicate the already difficult efforts to limit global warming.

Even for a country of China’s size, the scale of the correction is immense. The sharp upward revision in official figures means that China has released much more carbon dioxide — almost a billion more tons a year according to initial calculations — than previously estimated.

The increase alone is greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels.

The new data, which appeared recently in an energy statistics yearbook published without fanfare by China’s statistical agency, show that coal consumption has been underestimated since 2000, and particularly in recent years. The revisions were based on a census of the economy in 2013 that exposed gaps in data collection, especially from small companies and factories.

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.

To borrow from the management mantra, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

China has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions from a peak level “around” 2030–assuming anyone knows how much is being produced by then.  However, this pledge isn’t anything exceptional. It’s “little more than business as usual,” writes the Institute for 21st Century Energy’s Stephen Eule. “In other words, the Chinese have committed to doing what they are doing already.”

The second story is that Asia’s appetite coal for it isn’t letting up [h/t GWPF]:

While much attention has been given to a potential peak in China’s coal demand and worries about emissions, in Asia alone this year power companies are building more than 500 coal-fired plants, with at least a thousand more on planning boards. Coal is not only cheaper than natural gas, it is often available locally and has no heavy import costs.

“Electricity is increasing its share in total energy consumption and coal is increasing its share in power generation,” said Laszlo Varro, head of the gas, coal and power markets division for the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Some of the biggest growth in coal use is in India, where it meets 45 percent of total energy demand, compared with just over 20 percent each for petroleum products and biomass/waste.

“We’re absolutely sure India’s coal demand will continue to grow,” Varro said.

Coal will continue to be used in developing countries because it’s a cheap source of electricity. To think U.S. negotiators at upcoming climate talks in Paris will be able to convince China and India to abstain from using cheap energy to better the lives of their citizens is living in a fantasy world.

These facts won’t stop the Obama administration from touting EPA’s Clean Power Plan as the United States’ key contribution to the Paris talks. For them it’s full speed ahead to push aside cheap and abundant coal as a source of electricity no matter the costs to our economy.

As Eule writes:

What’s more of a mystery is why the administration is content to throw away the United States’ energy edge in favor of an agreement that will put us at a competitive disadvantage for no discernible environmental impact. In fact, when other nations choose not to impose carbon restrictions as stringent as those in the U.S., we will be likely to see “carbon leakage,” where emissions are not reduced at all, and instead simply moved (along with the jobs that come with them) to our global competitors.

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EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of a coal-fired electric power plan in Datong, China. Photo credit: Stefen Chow/Bloomberg,

Thinking About China

Napoleon Bonaparte purportedly said “Let China sleep, for when China wakes, she will shake the world.”

Cover - China ChallengeAs Thomas J. Christensen, the author of his recently published “The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power”, reminds us, “For millennia China was arguably the greatest civilization on the planet and for many previous centuries its most powerful empire.”

China is no longer an empire, but it remains a huge nation geographically and huge in terms of its population.

From the website worldometers.info, we learn:

Christensen is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Currently he is the William P. Boswell Professor of World Politics and director of the China and World Program at Princeton University. After reading his book, you might well conclude that there is little about China and Asia he does not know.

We are mostly dependent on various news stories about China to have any idea what is occurring, but the fact remains that just as the U.S. has its optimists and pessimists, conservatives and liberals who influence policy the same exists for China, so a lot depends on who is being quoted. Generally, though, it is only the top leaders who are. That means we are getting the Chinese “party line” and the occasional general or admiral warning against any aggression.

China did not begin to awaken as a modern nation until after the death of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, a Communist with a capital “C.” Christensen notes that, while keeping its political ideology, the leader that followed him made a “peaceful transformation launched under CCP leader Deng Xiaopping in 1978 and the collapse of the superpower Soviet Union thirteen years later that made China appear to stand tall again among the great powers.” The transitition was to a capitalist-based economy.

These days the Chinese and the Russians are making efforts to achieve areas of cooperation and, in particular, their militaries. They hold drills together for common defense strategies.

Christensen believes that “China’s return to great power status is perhaps the most important challenges in twenty-first century American diplomacy”, but to put that in context he points out that “China’s per capita income is only one fifth that of the United States” and “though a true trade superpower, many of its exporters are controlled at least in part by foreign investors.”

“Still, the pessimists do not give enough credit to the sustainability of U.S. leadership in Asia,” says Christensen. “For example, they often underestimate the value of American’s unparalleled network of allies and security partners.” You can be sure that the Chinese leadership does not.

They also have, as one would expect, concerns about U.S. military power in their area of the world, but they feel the same about Japan and South Korea as well. “China is not currently an enemy of the United States,” says Christensen, nor is it likely to be for a long time to come.

“It does not need to be contained like the (former) Soviet Union. Nor should China become the kind of regional or global adversary that we have faced in the past, although that outcome, unfortunately, is still a distinct possibility.” That possibility depends on China’s leadership now and in the future. For now they are concentrating on their economy and are likely to do so for many years to come.

Chinese Money“China’s economic clout is real and growing rapidly, especially since the 2008 financial crisis. China has been the main engine of growth for the world’s economy since that time and, by some measures, has become the world’s number one trading state.” There is only one reason why the U.S. has not yet recovered from the financial crisis and his name is Barack Obama.

I suspect that Obama is held in disdain by the Chinese leadership despite all the public handshakes. For one thing, China weathered the financial crisis far better than the U.S. “One of the burdens the new Obama administration inherited in early 2009 was a China bearing a mix of cockiness and insecurity that would negatively influence its policies in 2009-2010,” says Christensen and as the U.S. foundered in Afghanistan and Iraq “American power inspired less awe.”

“Sometime in 2012, the ‘Asia pivot’” of the Obama administration “would be jettisoned in Washington for the more subtle ‘Asia rebalance.’” If you get the feeling that the Obama administration has no real China policy or one that will have little influence, you are right.

With regard to China, It likely does not matter what the Obama administration does for its remaining one and a half years in office.

Various scholars and diplomats will continue to keep a watchful eye on China and most surely many corporate leaders and U.S. entrepreneurs will do so as well given its huge population as a marketplace. It’s already a great tourist destination.

Napoleon was right.

© Alan Caruba, 2015

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