BEIJING (Reuters) - China needs to hit its "peak coal" use by 2020 if it is to fulfill its commitment to end growth in climate-warming carbon emissions by the end of the next decade, an influential government think tank said on Tuesday.
China pledged for the first time to end growth in carbon emissions by "around 2030" last week, and it has also vowed to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in its total energy mix to 20 percent by the same year.
To stick to those targets, China needs to cap coal consumption at less than 4.1 billion tonnes in 2020, up about 13 percent from the 3.6 billion tonnes burned last year.
Su Ming, a researcher with the Energy Research Institute (ERI), run by China's National Development and Reform Commission, said while "peak coal" needed to come in 2020, industrialized eastern regions needed to start to cut consumption earlier if targets were to be met.
"We are trying to tell provincial officials how much coal they could use under a restricted nationwide quota," Su told Reuters on Tuesday, adding that less-developed western regions could delay the peak until 2030.
China's economy relied heavily on coal during the past three decades of growth, but slowing and eventually reducing use of the dirty fuel is now a vital part of efforts to tackle smog and greenhouse gas emissions.
Beijing and the big consuming regions of Hebei, Tianjin and Shandong have already committed to cut coal use by a total of 83 million tonnes over the 2012-2017 period, but Su said they need to cut at least 220 million tonnes by 2030 if they are to meet their air pollution goals.
Beijing alone would need to cut coal use by 99 percent to below 200,000 tonnes by 2030, ERI said. Hebei, Tianjin and Shandong would have to make cuts of up to 27 percent by then.
Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu on the east coast would also need to cut consumption by 85 million tonnes by 2030.
China is expected to announce a coal cap in the next five-year plan for 2016-2020, but it has not yet decided whether it will be binding, or how it will be allocated regionally.
Reporting by Kathy Chen and David Stanway; Editing by Tom Hogue