Doubts have been raised about China’s green push due to new coal-fired power plants nearing completion, despite a worsening overcapacity problem.
Earlier this year central authorities cancelled another 104 planned coal power projects.
Government figures have also revealed close to one fifth of wind and solar energy capacity is going to waste, as wind and solar farm developments outpace the ability to connect them to the grid.
Overall though, there is a consensus that China’s use of coal for energy generation has most likely peaked.
“For the thermal seaborne coal export market, I think this highlights a dire outlook,” said Tim Buckley, a renewable-energy advocate with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
“Our industry in Australia needs to understand the magnitude of the transformation underway,” he said.
Figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics this year revealed a 4.7 per cent year-on-year fall in coal consumption in 2016.
Coal production dropped even more, and the latest figures confirm a three-year trend of declining coal use for the country’s massive electricity grid.
“China has transformed itself from climate bad boy into a reluctant leader, and at the Paris climate change talks, really a true leader,” said Greenpeace East Asia’s spokesman Li Shuo.
As part of commitments made in the global Paris Climate agreement, China will introduce a cap on coal and seek to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.
To achieve this, the country has embarked on a $474 billion renewable energy program, with huge wind and solar farms under construction across the country.
China’s 1.35 billion people produce double the amount of CO2 emissions as the world’s second largest polluter, the United States.
Coal burning is the major cause, and it is separately the main contributor to air pollution that regularly chokes China’s major cities.
“I think people here probably can’t wait that long before solving the air pollution problem, so I think the domestic pressure itself is already large enough for China to take action,” said Professor Qi Ye, a climate change specialist at Tsinghua University in Beijing.