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Deben Easily Deluded

November 8, 2013

By Paul Homewood



We sometimes hear claims that China are doing much more than the West is to combat CO2 emissions.

Bishop Hill reported this comment by Lord Deben the other day on BBC.

If you look at what China’s doing…China’s actually moving a lot faster than we are now, and it’s actually moving towards a peak in its emission in the mid, maybe even in the early, 2020s.

Well, maybe they are, but just how high will that peak be by then?

Each year, the World Coal Association publish their stats, and the following table summarises some of the numbers for China.


  2012 2011 2008
Coal Production Mt 3549 3471 2761
Coal Imports Mt 289 190 46
Coal in Electrical Generation % 81 79 81


So coal output/import continues to grow at pace, and maintains the same percentage of electrical output, even though the latter is also growing rapidly.


It seems likely that the increasing demand for energy will tail off as GDP growth slows down, and the emphasis shifts from heavy industry to the consumer/service sector. This on its own will ensure that emissions will probably peak at some point in the future. There is also no doubt that the real pollution coming out of China’s coal power plants is creating serious health issues, and this will create an impetus towards a switch to natural gas.

But I suggest that anyone who thinks China is going to massively reduce CO2 emissions just to satisfy the West is living in cloud cuckoo land.

  1. Stephen WILSON permalink
    November 8, 2013 11:11 pm


    You are quite right. I analyse this space for a living (running a market and industry analysis team for an international company that produces coal, among other things).

    China’s leaders are rightly concerned about air quality. Reminds me of my time in HK (early 1999- late 2002) when air quality was arguably public policy issue No.1…but a bit hard to control sources in Guangdong from an old British government office in Garden Road HK! (Even if HK business men owned half the factories running diesel self-gen to overcome power shortages…).

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking that large coal-fired power plants in China are “dirty”. The newer ones are all very high efficiency state-of-the-art ultra-supercritical plants, fully fitted with flue gas desulphuridation, low-NOx burners and particulate removal systems. (These systems are not always turned on…but that is fairly easily remedied).

    The air quality problems are from sources like vehicles especially small trucks (poor fuel quality standards, poor engines), old coke and sinter plants (now being forced to close), small industrial boilers and old district heating plants.

    These latter will gradually be displaced by gas, and I also see more and more CNG trucks on each visit (3 or 4 times a year, to various provinces). LNG trucks are also being deployed.

    China will be the world’s largest gas market at some point probably before 2030, surpassing the EU (~550Bcm) and the US (~650Bcm). Just as it will be the world’s biggest nuclear generator (stated goal: 400 GW by 2050, compared with 372GW for the whole world pre-Fukushima). Yet scale and huge growth mean that gas and nuclear will each probably be still less than 15% of the long-run fuel mix…

    China would live to have more gas, but it is fundamentally gas short. Despite the hype on Chinese shale gas prospects, our detailed analysis and personal interviews and discussions with all the major Chinese and foreign experts and senior leaders in companies, industry associations, academies, consultancies and government show that success on that frontier remains highly uncertain and in any case far in the future.

    Are folk like Lord Deben unaware of the basic facts and growth arithmetic, or are they deliberately misleading the public?

    BTW, did you see John Howard’s recent speech to the GWPF?

    Regards, Stephen

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. catweazle666 permalink
    November 9, 2013 12:32 am

    “Are folk like Lord Deben unaware of the basic facts and growth arithmetic, or are they deliberately misleading the public? ”

    I’m surprised you need to ask that, given John Gummer’s track record.

  3. John F. Hultquist permalink
    November 9, 2013 3:51 am

    The photo at the top is interesting. I tried to check for a date but it is on the Telegraph site and I did not register. So I used Bing with the string ‘china coal mine’ and searched images. The scale and technology is all over the place but there seem to be many small places operating at the level of the late 1800s. Then I searched for ‘china coal black lung’ and found this:

    This is an April 2012 story about patients seeking treatment at the newly opened Black-Lung Disease Rehabilitation Center – the first in China.
    Your Lord Deben might enjoy a fact-finding trip with the purpose of determining how fast China is moving on such medical issues. There will be immediate benefits to workers when a substantial effort is made toward this issue. Need I add there is almost no benefit to anyone (except those harvesting subsidies) from trying to reduce CO2 emissions.

    • November 14, 2013 1:17 pm

      My husband worked at a coal mine in the US. This was about 15 years ago. The Chinese were visiting and were amazed at the low number of deaths in US coal plants. The number is improving now, though it was reported as being nearly 18 times higher still (Radio Free Asia). Improvements are coming.

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