China's coal consumption falls for 3rd year in a row

FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2015 file photo, a Chinese flag moves in the breeze as a loader moves coal at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. According to official data released Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, China's consumption of coal fell in 2016 for a third year in a row as the world's top polluter has emerged as a leader in efforts to tackle climate change. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2015 file photo, smoke and steam rise from the smokestack of a coal-fired power plant near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. According to official data released Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, China's consumption of coal fell in 2016 for a third year in a row as the world's top polluter has emerged as a leader in efforts to tackle climate change. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2015 file photo, a worker monitors coal being carried along conveyor ramps at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. According to official data released Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, China's consumption of coal fell in 2016 for a third year in a row as the world's top polluter has emerged as a leader in efforts to tackle climate change. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

BEIJING — China's consumption of coal fell in 2016 for a third year in a row, official data showed Tuesday, as the world's top polluter increasingly grapples with its massive pollution challenges.

The National Bureau of Statistics said coal consumption fell by 4.7 percent last year, according to preliminary calculations. The bureau said the share of coal in China's total energy consumption mix fell to 62 percent in 2016 from 64 percent the year before.

The burning of coal is the biggest source of heat-trapping greenhouse gases that are the primary cause of global warming.

While China is the world's biggest consumer of coal, its consumption levels have dropped as economic growth slows to its lowest level since 1990. With its major cities gripped by choking air pollution, China has also aimed to reduce coal usage in favor of natural gas and renewable energy.

The decline in coal use, however, did not signal an overall drop in energy consumption. The country's total use of energy rose by the equivalent of 4.36 billion tons of standard coal, an increase of 1.4 percent over the previous year, the statistics bureau said. Consumption of crude oil increased by 5.5 percent, natural gas by 8 percent and electricity by 5 percent, it said.

Consumption of renewable sources such as solar and wind power accounted for 19.7 percent of the total energy mix, up 1.7 percent from the year before, while the production of coal fell by 9 percent to 3.41 billion tons. China has for years been closing smaller, less efficient and more dangerous coal mines in a bid to boost productivity in the sector.

As the world's second-largest economy, China is the top emitter of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, with the globe's leading economy, the United States, in second place.

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