Globalcoal.com reported today that Chinese power generation fell 7% in November from last year! Huge cuts in energy-intensive manufacturing (of aluminum, steel, etc.) and warmer than usual weather resulted in this record contraction in electricity production. The reduction in thermal plant output (mostly coal) fell an even more dramatic 14% from 2007. Thus greenhouse gas emissions in the 4th quarter of 2008 will probably be significantly below the year-ago level. This development brings hope that China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, may be able to slow its greenhouse gas emission growth from the torrid pace of the past several years.
Adding this to the emissions slide occurring in the US that I wrote about a few days ago may mean that global greenhouse gas emissions may fall this winter and in 2009. The real test will be whether we can make this global recession an opportunity to continue advancing renewables and efficiency technologies in the year ahead so that the hopeful return to economic growth in 2010 will not mean a return to carbon emissions growth. The recession will provide a crossroads in the global energy system that will allow China, the US, and all major economies to choose a climate responsible path forward.
The fall in electricity generation also has huge implications for global coal markets, sending coal’s trading price down rapidly from the records it hit over the summer. Massive US job losses just reported for November brought oil prices down to ~$40 per barrel today, a level I thought unimaginable just four short months ago.
Bottom line: As in any crisis, there is opportunity. The falling carbon emissions are a sort of silver lining for the Earth’s climate amid the recession, especially when they occur in China (where emissions have been predicted to more than double in the decades ahead). But it is only a silver lining if we take this opportunity to deploy massive energy efficiencies throughout the world so that the economic recovery will not automatically equal a resumption of escalating greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 and beyond.