Key Opportunities for U.S-China Cooperation on Coal, and Carbon Capture and Storage

Kelly Sims Gallagher
Kelly Sims Gallagher Director, Center for International Environment and Resource Policy - Tufts University Fletcher School

January 8, 2010


One of the most striking commonalities between China and the United States is that both countries are blessed with large coal reserves,and naturally, both rely heavily on coal for their primary energy supply. U.S. coal reserves are estimated at 243 billion tons (29% of world total), and Chinese at 115 billion tons (14% of world total). China’s reserves-to-production ratio, however,is much shorter than that of the United States with only 41 years of currently-estimated economically recoverable coal compared with 224 years in the United States at current production rates (BP Statistical Review 2009). As the most abundant fossil energy resource in both countries, it is virtually certain that both will continue to rely heavily on coal due to its relatively low cost and the energy security benefits related to not having to import substantial foreign supplies of primary energy.

The utilization of coal will be increasingly limited by the climate change problem, however, unless advanced coal and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies can be developed, demonstrated, and rendered cost-effective within the next 5-15 years. Coal is the most polluting fuel from the standpoint of climate change; more carbon dioxide (CO2) is polluted from coal than from any other fuel on a gram-per-gram basis. The climate change threat is very serious and may require dramatic cuts in global greenhouse-gas emissions in the next 10-20 years (see, for example, IPCC 2007, Anderson and Bows 2008, and Meinshausen et. al 2009). In short, both China and the United States will be required to dramatically reduce GHG emissions much sooner than either country would like if prevention of dangerous climate change is to be achieved.