Beijing smogEnlarge Photo
China now burns half of the world's coal, according to newly-released data that appears to correct previous government estimates.
This latest data shows that China has been burning up to 17 percent more coal annually than its government previously reported.
That means China may have also released almost a billion more tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year for the past few years.
China's admission that it burns much more coal than previously reported not only has serious environmental consequences, but could also complicate upcoming climate-change talks.
Even for the country already known to burn more coal than any other, the scale of this correction is significant, The New York Times suggests.
The 17-percent increase is greater than the total fossil-fuel emissions from the entire German economy annually.
China's coal consumption (via @CountCarbon on Twitter)Enlarge Photo
It also means that China now burns fully half of the world's coal.
The new data was published quietly by the Chinese government in an energy-statistics yearbook, and is based on a census of the economy from 2013.
The census reportedly exposed gaps in data collection, particularly from small companies and factories.
It shows that Chinese coal consumption has been underestimated since 2000, but particularly so in recent years.
The new data adds about 600 million tons to China's 2012 coal consumption--equivalent to about 70 percent of annual U.S. coal consumption.
The previously unaccounted-for coal consumption mostly comes from heavy industry, including plants that produce coal chemicals and cement, as well as those using coking coal, which is used to make steel.
The correction for coal use in electricity generation was reportedly much smaller.
While burning more coal equates to higher levels of carbon-dioxide emissions, the new information reportedly does not alter estimates of the total amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
That is measured directly, rather than calculated from fuel consumption, as countries' emissions levels are.
But the changes will likely affect future discussions on curtailing greenhouse-gas emissions--including a major United Nations conference set to take place next month in Paris.
Many forecasts for and commitments for reductions were based on the previous, lower levels, analysts say.
Chinese President Xi Jinping previously said that China's emissions will stop growing by 2030, but has not said what level they will have reached by then.