New Data Show China to be Consuming Far More Coal than Previously Thought

The NYT’s article on November 3, 2015 (“China Burns Much More Coal than Reported, Complicating Climate Talks”, November 3, 2015) revealed that China had significantly underreported its own coal consumption for the past fifteen years. The data revealed, according to the NYT, that Chinese coal consumption was 17% higher (likely by weight) than previously reported and cited an article posted in September 2015 by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) that reported coal consumption to be 14% by energy content.

Statistical errors and data collection difficulties in a country as large and complex as China undoubtedly play a role in this false reporting. However, there may be other reasons behind this discrepancy between actual consumption and reported consumption. There is speculation that Chinese firms may be inflating the joules/kg figures of the coal they buy to overstate costs and take ‘kickbacks’ on the difference between the price of the coal with the quality they false reported and the price of the coal they actually bought. If coal consumption figures were based on the energy demands of firms, then they would not accurately represent the total tonnage of coal being burnt. A firm would need to burn more low quality coal to fulfil the same energy requirements and consumption figures that assumed a higher coal quality would underestimate consumption levels.

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