Grant McDermott bio photo

Grant McDermott

Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Oregon

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I've tried to emphasise the importance of relative concepts many times on this blog. However, there are occasions when relative measures can also be more than a little misleading. Case in point: This article from Reuters, which describes how China plans to reduce its coal consumption to 65% of primary energy by 2017.

This policy prescription is primarily motivated by desire to improve the country's terrible air pollution. Of course, a reduction in coal will also bring climate benefits. (I have previously talked about the "co-benefits" of climate policy and local air pollution measures here.)

However, despite being a tentative step in a right direction, this is hardly a watershed moment. In fact, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) was already forecasting a drop in Chinese coal consumption to 65% of total energy by 2017 (from 69% in 2012) in the reference scenario of its International Energy Outlook, which was published earlier this year.

More importantly, this relative decrease glosses over the fact that the absolute consumption of coal is forecast to increase by nearly 20% over the same period... Up from 79.2 quadrillion Btu in 2012 to an eye-watering 94.1 quad Btu in 2017!

Source: EIA data tool

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Be wary of anyone who tells you that China is leading the race in de-carbonising their economy, or winning the battle on renewables for that matter. The bigger picture is far more sobering.