Official data shows that China is surging ahead in switching to renewable energy and away from coal in moves its officials say will allow it to surpass its carbon emissions targets.
The country’s solar and wind energy capacity soared last year by 74 and 34 per cent respectively compared with 2014, according to figures just issued by China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
The world’s number one polluter emitted one to two per cent less carbon dioxide (CO2) in the period as the cooling Asian economy used two to four per cent less coal, according to a analysis of the data by the environmental lobby group Greenpeace.
It brings China much closer to meeting targets to arrest growth in emissions by 2030.
China also confirmed it broke two clean energy world records in 2015, installing 32.5 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 18.3GW of solar power.
The figures back up claims last month in Hong Kong by Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead negotiator at the United Nations climate talks in Paris last December, that the country will “far surpass” its 2020 target to reduce carbon emissions per unit of national wealth (GDP) by 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels.
Since China emits nearly a third of the world’s carbon dioxide, which is heating up the planet, this could make a major contribution to holding back temperature increases to the two degrees Celsius maximum global target agreed by governments as part of the UN Paris Agreement.
“The latest figures confirm China’s record-breaking shift toward renewable power and away from coal,” says Tim Buckley of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a United States based energy consultancy told New Scientist.
“China’s official 2015 wind installations are an all-time global record of 32.5 gigawatts,” said Mr Buckley.
The latest figures state that “clean energy”, a combination of hydro, wind, solar, nuclear and natural gas, now accounts for 18 per cent of all its energy, up from 13 per cent in 2011.
“We’re now at the point where these technologies can compete head-to-head with gas and coal on price, meaning that this growth is only going to accelerate,” said Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, representing the UK’s wind and wave power producers.
“It’s a really positive signal, a perfect example of an emerging economy trying to shift the way it develops,” says Ranping Song of the World Resources Institute think tank in the US.
China is due to issue its next five-year economic plan this month.
“So it’s a perfect time to see how serious they are about tackling emissions,” Mr Song said.
However, the dip in coal consumption over the past two years, which equals an entire year’s coal consumption in Japan, suggests that China may now have reached “peak coal”.
“China’s market for coal consumption has started to become saturated, and should gradually decline,” Mr Xie said in Hong Kong.