Don't buy the spin. Greenpeace lays it out for us about how the US Coal industry is reeling from drying up demand and looking anywhere for markets. It has manufactured Chinese demand when in reality any demand there may dry up before US coal has a chance to reach it's ports.
Several factors cast doubt on the future of Chinese demand for US coal, including new national and local policies in China aimed at reducing air pollution and capping coal use, slowing economic growth, surging renewable energy growth, and increased public concern about air pollution. Earlier US coal export proposals have failed in part because of unstable Asian demand, and the current push to export US coal by companies like Arch Coal, Cloud Peak Energy, and Australian upstart Ambre Energy are motivated by a desperate industry, not sound economics.One of the main factors that China must consider is that it is already having major issues with water scarcity. Water shortages will force parts of China to choose between using water for drinking and agriculture or coal-fired power plants.
China has been simultaneously trying to lift it's staggeringly huge population off poverty and at the same time transition to a sustainable energy future. It's using a series of five year plans the most current(2011-2015) of which caps domestic production and consumption of coal at 3.9 billion tons by the end of 2015. This has caused a weak demand and a pile up of coal in some major ports.
Pollution Beijing by Beijinj things Flickr
Another factor contributing to China limiting coal use is the severe air pollution surrounding it's major industrial cities. Public concern about poor air quality has forced the Chinese government to react by introducing relatively strict targets for reducing PM2.5 pollution in major cities by 40-50% by 2016. Burning coal is a leading cause of PM2.5 pollution, and the Chinese public is becoming increasingly vocal in its demand for solutions.
China passed the U.S. in 2010 to become the world's number one market for wind power, and had approximately 62GW capacity installation by end of 2011. According to China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, the country aims to increase wind capacity to 100GW by end of 2015. The growing renewable energy revolution in China is on pace to undercut the aggressive Chinese coal demand projections upon which U.S. export hopefuls are counting.
The same factors must be used in considering China's demand for tar sands crude. The pitch to sell Alberta's dirty tar sands sounds more like the dying wail of an industry that knows it has seen it's best days.