From 1980 to 2000 China quadrupled its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) whilst only doubling its energy use. New research has indicated that this trend will not continue and China is likely to experience much greater energy use, coal demand and carbon dioxide emissions than has been forecast by international energy agencies. When a country is developing, energy consumption tends to grow as fast, or faster than GDP. However from 1980-2000 China's pattern of energy consumption was unusual and only doubled in size whilst its GDP has quadrupled. It was thought this trend might continue but, according to the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) Energy Balances data, energy use in China has already doubled again between 2000 and 2006. Despite this, China's government and major international statistics agencies, such as the IEA and the US Dept of Energy (USDOE), are producing future forecasts that do not necessarily reflect current realities. The rise in energy use has increased China's coal use. In 1990 about 25% of coal production was used in electric utilities and by 2006 that share had grown to about 50%. This has serious implications for sustainable growth, depletion of coal resources and the global environment. The study forecast China's coal demand to 2025 using predictions on electricity use. It assumed that the growth rates of GDP will be slower during the 2008-2025 period compared with 2000-2007, due both to the global financial crisis and to a natural slowing as the economy matures. It used three GDP growth rates of 6%, 6.5% and 7% and relatively conservative figures about Chinese electricity demand from 2009-2025, assuming that it will only grow 1.1 times as fast as GDP, which is less than the 2000-2007 ratio of 1.3. In 2008 the IEA forecast that electricity consumption would grow significantly slower than GDP at a ratio of 0.7. The research predicted that a 6.5% GDP growth rate would use over six billion tons of coal in 2025, which is nearly three times the amount of coal produced and used in 2005. In comparison, the IEA forecast that China would use about 4.5 billion tons of coal in 2025. Translating this into carbon dioxide emissions, the research predicted that China's coal usage from a 6.5% growth in GDP would produce about 14.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2025, which could be double the US carbon dioxide emissions in that year. The research indicated that current forecasts are underestimating the future coal use and subsequent carbon dioxide emissions of China. This could possibly overwhelm worldwide efforts to reduce GHG emissions as well as challenge Chinese coal supply due to inadequate transportation infrastructure and depletion of coal reserves. Suggestions for reducing China's dependence on fossil fuels have focused on alternative fuels and energy efficiency. However, compared to the IEA and USDOE's analyses, this analysis actually assumed a more rapid growth of electric generation by sources other than coal. For example, a nine-fold increase in nuclear generation. This suggests that it is unlikely that alternative fuels will solve the problem. Energy efficiency improvements have significant potential but will need dramatic energy price and policy reform to ensure their success. The researchers suggested that slower economic growth may need to be part of the solution.


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