Energy World Rocked as China Cuts Coal Imports, Aims for Fossil Fuel Car Ban

The global energy posture is changing almost as rapidly as a climate increasingly choked with greenhouse gas emissions. And few parts of the world show this emerging trend more clearly than China. In short, China is adding restrictions to both domestic coal production and coal imports even as it is rapidly building new solar generation capacity and moving to ban domestic fossil fuel based vehicle sales.

Cutting Coal as Solar Grows

Recently, China made two major policy moves that have rocked the global energy markets. The first was its recent closing of terminals to coal imports — which may result in a net reduction of imported coal by 10 percent during 2017. Since July, China has closed approximately 150 smaller facilities to coal imports. These ports, which China has designated as tier two, are less able to test coal for compliance with China’s new emissions standards. As a result, coal imports have re-routed to larger (tier 1) facilities. A move that has created a backlog of coal off-loading ships.

In early September, China then closed the major port of Guangzhou to coal imports ahead of a cyclone. Guangzhou is one of China’s largest ports — capable of handling 60 million tons of coal per year. The closure sent shivers through coal exporters like Australia as the line of ships waiting to off-load coal lengthened. This port has since re-opened but larger constraints to China’s coal import market remain.

(China is defying all expectations with regards to the rate at which it is adding new solar electrical generation capacity. Such a strong renewable energy addition is coming in conjunction with far more restrictive domestic and import policies aimed at reducing coal burning and improving air quality. Image source: Renew Economy.)

Recently, China imposed caps on domestic coal production and aimed to reduce total coal generating capacity. These caps and cuts led some coal exporters to believe that China’s large fleet of coal plants would require more imports to fill a perceived demand gap. But China’s new, more restrictive import policies are belying those earlier notions.

In the larger context, China is engaged in a major shift toward renewable energy production. Through July, China had added approximately 35 gigawatts of new solar electrical generation capacity — with 24 gigawatts of that capacity being added in June and July alone. By early August, China’s total solar electrical generating capacity had exceeded 112 gigawatts. Strong adds that have to be putting more than just a little bit of pressure on traditional and dirty generating sources like coal. Add in China’s more restrictive policies and the picture for coal in the country during 2017 doesn’t look very rosy.

Fossil Fuel Vehicle Ban

After imposing tougher restrictions on coal imports, China’s second major policy move involves a recent statement that it will declare a ban date for all fossil fuel based vehicles. During the weekend of September 10th, Xin Guobin, China’s industry and information technology vice minister, announced that China would set a deadline for car makers to stop selling vehicles that run exclusively on diesel and gasoline.

Though no deadline has presently been announced, the move has resulted in a big freak-out by majority fossil fuel vehicle producers like General Motors.

(National polices are aiding a rapid transition away from fossil fuel based vehicles. These actions are enabling the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and providing hope for reducing the terrible impacts of human-forced climate change. See interactive graphic of above image here: Bloomberg.)

China’s announcement comes alongside similar moves by Britain, France, Norway, the Netherlands, and India. France and Britain both plan to ban fossil fuel based vehicle sales by 2040. Meanwhile, the Netherlands and India have announced their own plans to phase out carbon-emitting cars. And, according to Bloomberg, countries accounting for 80 percent of the global vehicle market are now undertaking polices pushing toward the phase out of petroleum vehicles and the adoption of electrical vehicles.

China’s 28 million per year automobile sales, however, is a huge addition. And if the country imposes a deadline, it will force major automakers to further accelerate electrical vehicle production plans or become basically irrelevant as the fossil fuel vehicle market disappears.

(Rapid transition away from fossil fuel vehicles means declining prospects for oil just as a rapid transition to wind, solar, and battery based storage means declining prospects for coal and gas. Do we really want to be putting economic eggs into shrinking fossil fuel baskets? Image source: IEA, Bloomberg.)

Ironically, China’s move appears to be mirroring similar policies already put in place by U.S. states like California and U.S. technology leaders like Tesla. Sophie Lu, a Beijing-based China researcher for Bloomberg New Energy finance recently noted that: “Chinese regulators see the success of Tesla and other Californian companies, and want to promote the same success amongst Chinese car manufacturers.”

The fact that the world is following in the footsteps of both California and Tesla should set off a loud ringing in the otherwise deaf to new energy ears of the present administration in Washington. More to the point, valid analysis shows that China is setting itself up to dominate the newer, cleaner, less harmful to climates, and more appealing energy and technology markets of the future. And a failure to successfully engage in what is an emerging global competition at the federal level sets the U.S. up for a serious future failure and ultimate energy market irrelevance.


China is Banning Traditional Auto Engines: It’s Aim — Electric Car Domination

China Port Halts Coal Imports

China Announces Intention to Ban Fossil Fuel Vehicles

Fears Raised as China Cuts Coal Imports

Electric Cars Reach Tipping Point


Leave a comment


  1. Thanks for this Robert. In New Zealand the incumbent right wing (National) have their heads completely in the sand re energy policy, climate change, CO2, sea level rise, you name it. And with a compliant press they think they can get away with it.

    And just in time for the election this Saturday a vital refined oils pipeline supplying Auckland has been breached ( How the breach occurred is not being discussed, which is interesting.
    Electric vehicles (and decent town planning) would make this much less of a problem.

  2. bostonblorp

     /  September 19, 2017

    OT: awful footage of dust clouds from building collapses all over Mexico City due to recent earthquake.

    • eleggua

       /  September 19, 2017

      3.6 late last night in L.A. 3.8 earlier today in (drum roll) Indiana. Only 44 earthquakes 3.0 or greater in Indiana in 200 years.

      ‘Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes’
      by Bill McGuire, 2012, Oxford University Press

      “… We know that at the end of the last Ice Age, as the great glaciers disappeared, the release in pressure allowed the crust beneath to bounce back. At the same time, staggering volumes of melt water poured into the ocean basins, warping and bending the crust around their margins. The resulting tossing and turning provoked a huge resurgence in volcanic activity, seismic shocks, and monstrous landslides—the last both above the waves and below. The frightening truth is that temperature rises expected this century are in line with those at the end of the Ice Age. All the signs, warns geophysical hazard specialist Bill McGuire, are that unmitigated climate change due to human activities could bring about a comparable response. Using evidence accumulated from studies of the recent history of our planet, and gleaned from current observations and modelling, he argues convincingly that we ignore at our peril the threats presented by climate change and the waking giant beneath our feet.”

    • eleggua

       /  September 19, 2017

      And following closely on the heels of an 8.1 at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico.

      ‘8.1 magnitude earthquake is one of the strongest to ever hit Mexico’
      September 8, 2017

      • We don’t yet have a reliable trend globally showing more intense or more frequent earthquakes overall. That said, geophysical changes due to sea level change, loss of glacial ice etc. can certainly have regional if not global impacts. This is a new area that is subject to a high amount of controversy among the scientists. Something worth watch as an emerging threat issue, though.

        • eleggua

           /  September 20, 2017

          Definitely. Nothing definitive at all; no way to say it’s due to or even amplified by climate change. Interesting to note the activity.

          The hurricanes this season, definitely amplified by climate change; no question about that.

        • Robert, I know this is controversial, so post as you see fit, but after the second earthquake in two weeks hard on the heels of hurricanes I checked up. Here is one article from 2011 mentioning a possible connection,,y-cause-earthquakes-38447485/, though there are many others denying a link. Not definitive, but interesting, anyway. I remember somewhere an article reporting that even heavy rainstorms can trigger minor tremors in California.
          Partial list:
          1. Irene, 8/20/2011-Cat 3-landfall @ St Croix……….8/23/2011 5.8 magnitude quake Virginia.
          2. Sandy, 10/25/2011-Cat 3-Cuba, 10/29 cat 1 New Jersey……..10/28/2011 7.8 coast BC
          3. Irma, 9/6/2017-Cat 5-Barbuda…………………………9/8/2017 8.2 Chapas coast, Mexico
          Also Harvey Cat 4, 8/25/2017 @ Rockport TX
          Katia, Cat 1 9/8/17 @ Tecolutla, Mexico
          Jose 9/14/2017 Cat 5 Caribbean
          4. Maria 9/18/2017-Cat 5 @ Dominica ……………………9/19/2017 7/1 Mexico City

        • wpNSAlito

           /  September 20, 2017

          A half dozen undergraduate geology classes does not make me an expert, of course, but I don’t expect the natural background of seismicity to change noticeably. Instead, we should see
          (1) ongoing accelerated earthquakes from fluid injection wells
          (2) more deaths from increased poor/refugee populations in cheap or corruptly-built structures

        • eleggua

           /  September 20, 2017

          ml, a comma somehow ended up in the middle of that link so it doesn’t click through to the piece. Here’s the working link to that article.

          “…The scientists, says Nature, argue that “a decrease in pressure caused by the storm’s travel up the East Coast might have reduced forces on the fault enough to allow it to slip.” More research will be needed to definitively pin down the proposed tie between the hurricane and the earthquake. But the suggestion that the Virginia fault system would have been susceptible to the stresses caused by the hurricane aligns well with the idea that big natural systems, sometimes treated as if they act independently of the world around them, might actually all be connected….”

          Worth a closer look. Would be interested to hear McGuire’s take on it; nothing mentioned in ‘Waking The Giant’.

        • eleggua

           /  September 20, 2017

          “I don’t expect the natural background of seismicity to change noticeably. ”

          Might seem farfetched however we do see it changing noticeably due to hurricanes.
          The possibility of it hadn’t occured to me until reading the piece that ml linked and then reading this piece that’s referenced in the other one. Quite credibly incredible.
          Yet another positive feedback loop factor.

          ‘Hurricane Sandy Generated Seismic Shaking As Far Away As Seattle
          The superstorm’s massive ocean waves produced low-level seismic activity across the entire country’
          April 18, 2013

          “Keith Koper and Oner Sufri, a pair of geologists at the University of Utah, recently determined that the crashing of massive waves against Long Island, New York and New Jersey—as well as waves hitting each other offshore—generated measurable seismic waves across much of the U.S., as far away as Seattle. As Sufri will explain in presenting the team’s preliminary findings today during the Seismological Society of America‘s annual meeting, they analyzed data from a nationwide network of seismometers to track microseisms, faint tremors that spread through the earth as a result of the storm waves’ force….”

        • eleggua
          Appreciate the correction and the Smithsonian article. Seismic measurement for the overall force of a hurricane is an intriguing thought. It may be that fault systems, under certain circumstances, are more delicate than one would think .

        • eleggua

           /  September 21, 2017

          You’re welcome. Thanks so much for posting it; fascinating and led me to the Smithsonian bit which is very intriguing. Looks like solid, undeniable data there.

          Somehing about what we’re realizing about human-induced climate change feels evolutionary here. It’s not just global climate change going on but simultaneously global consciousness change, and that doesn’t feel accidental or coincidental. I’ll leave it at that, for now.

        • Now its #5. Another earthquake, magnitude 7.1, 17 miles from Axochiapan, Morelos, Mexico · Sep 19, 2:14 PM.
          Stats are building, three Cat 5’s in the Caribbean followed by three significant earthquakes in Mexico this September.

    • eleggua

       /  September 20, 2017

      Another point of interest re: this latest earthquake in Mexico. It occured on the 32nd anniversary of the massive Mexico City ‘quake.
      (An odd couple of natural disaster anniversary echoes of late; Mexico ‘quake today, 32 years after the ‘big one’;
      levees overtopped in Houston exactly on the 12th anniversary of the collapse of the levees in N.O. during Katrina.)

      ’32 years ago today, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake shook a whole nation’
      September 19, 2017

      “The 1985 Mexico City earthquake struck in the early morning of 19 September at 07:17:50 (CST) with a moment magnitude of 8.0 and a Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent).

      The event caused serious damage to the Greater Mexico City area and the deaths of at least 5,000 people. The sequence of events included a foreshock of magnitude 5.2 that occurred the prior May, the mainshock on 19 September, and two large aftershocks.

      The first of these occurred on 20 September with a magnitude of 7.5 and the second occurred seven months later on 30 April 1986 with a magnitude of 7.0….”

  3. Keith Antonysen

     /  September 19, 2017

    Thanks Robert, great to see something more positive;after all the terrible news about South Asia, Harvey and then Irma.

    • Wonderful, thanks Vic.

    • eleggua

       /  September 20, 2017

      Comment on that electrek article.

      ” CDspeed • a day ago

      My local area was hit by Irma, I evacuated in my Model X. During and after I never got stuck by power outages, but family, and most of my friends weren’t so lucky. I did think to myself that solar, and battery storage on every house would most likely have helped reduce the impact of widespread outages. Damage in my area was mostly downed trees my 60 foot tall tree out back landed on my patio. Power lines should be under ground in the first place they’d be a lot safer, but if we weren’t dependent on those lines I think more people may have been with power, or at least the odds would be better.”

    • eleggua

       /  September 20, 2017

      All of the surrounding trees have been stripped of all leaves and pummelled to the ground.

    • eleggua

       /  September 20, 2017

      How about a Cat5 storm?

      • Not much that can stand up to those kinds of forces. You’re basically looking at reinforced concrete structures only. But those roofs would certainly be more resilient to major hurricane damages than typical roofs.

        • eleggua

           /  September 21, 2017

          Thanks. Wondering if this current cycle of monster storms has Tesla engineers working to reconfigure those tiles into an even more durable state.

  4. Posted to my 4000 followers on Facebook and our climate change group here in Western NY.
    I have always enjoyed you articles and frequently share them.
    Thanks for your dedication Robert Scribbler!

    • eleggua

       /  September 21, 2017

      Maybe your group could set up a Skype talk/interview with Robert and invite folks from outside the group, too. Likely some hall or even local library meeting room freely available. Could be worthwhile at getting folks locally more aware and more active. If Robert were into it, of course.

      Talks at local library meeting rooms are usually easy to set up, and those spaces are often available ‘free’ or at nominal, easily affordable cost when split among a group. Getting the word out about the event is easy and free/cheap, too.

      • Thank you for the suggestion, we are part of a group at SUNY Fredonia and I sit on the board of directors of the group. We are working at bringing solar into our county and we also bring in speakers to educate the population but sadly, most of them refuse to believe in climate change and voted for Trump.

        • eleggua

           /  September 21, 2017

          You’re welcome.

          Biomimcry of natural systems vis a vis permaculture principles has potential to accelerate awareness locally. Imagine that your group are at the “bare soil” stage right now relative to the local population’s awareness and take it (slow) from there.
          The process naturally speeds up without much further impetus.

          Probably some young people from the school already involved with your group. The Geology and Environmental Sciences and Biology departments are likley places to recruit some audience and more participants.

          ‘Accelerating Succession and Evolution’

          “Quick Summary

          8. Accelerate Succession and Evolution: direct plants, animals, and soil life towards complexity and diversity to build our own climax species in a shorter time, forward your agriculture systems to more permanence, whether it is a grassland or a food forest. Utilize invasive species to your advantage; substitute your own pioneers and climax species that have multiple functions.

          Philosophical Underpinnings

          Succession is one of the key concepts for understanding natural systems. It can be thought of the as the will of nature pushing complexity and diversity ever more present. It starts with little, sometimes even bare rock from a volcano or bare soil after a years worth of growing, spraying and tilling a corn crop.

          From there it moves upward and downward creating new niches for varying flora and fauna to approach the heavens and to reach subterraneanly. As succession moves along, weeds turn to brambles which mix with shrubs then canopy trees emerge and eventually a climax forest comes.

          Context dependently, it moves more into a prairie or savannah depending on the local rainfall or local herbivores that set the stage for succession as well. The key behind this whole process is what happens above so happens below. The biomass of carbon and micro-organisms increases exponentially moving the soil from a bacterial driven system to one that is dominated by fungus.

          It’s a truly remarkable mirror that must always be crystalized in our minds, designs, and management strategies even though we often don’t examine it physically. However one can do this under the micro-scope, or use the sense of smell, or even the eyes with increased bio-diversity above the soil surface and increased water penetration below the surface. Erosion decreases, humus builds, and life flourishes along the process of succession.

          The counteracting force of succession is called disturbance in ecological models. However, when disturbance is patterned with nature, a rapid rebound can happen and actually propel succession.

          In nature tornadoes, ice storms, lava flow, hurricanes, marauding bison herds, and even plant diseases all act as contributors to disturbance. They are often local, quick events that bring down a patch of forest for example and bring a unique mosaic to the canopy. This force is creative and actually gives rise to increased bio-diversity through creating more edge. This happens at a pace and intensity associated with geologic time and the scale is relatively small….”

          (Interesting. Fredonia was the site of the first natural gas well and pipeline in the US in the early 19th century, and the first natural gas company in the US later on in the 1800s. The gas well and pipelines predate the incorporation of the town by a few years.
          The first Woman’s Christian Temperance Union meeting took place there;
          “abstinence, purity, and evangelical Christianity”. Those are definitely tough rows to hoe.
          And before that and before the Seneca, before the Iroquois, were Mound Buliders.
          Apparently the mounds there and nearby were huge burial grounds. Interesting history and prehistory.)

  1. NEWS UPDATE #158 - Ecologise

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