China Posts Record Fossil Fuel Output as Security Trumps Climate

Fossil fuel production in China soared in 2022, with coal and gas hitting record highs, as environmental targets took a back seat to energy security after a tumultuous year for prices. Author of the article: Bloomberg News Bloomberg News Published Jan 16, 2023  •  Last updated 18 hours ago  •  3 minute read Join the conversation…
China Posts Record Fossil Fuel Output as Security Trumps Climate

Fossil fuel production in China soared in 2022, with coal and gas hitting record highs, as environmental targets took a back seat to energy security after a tumultuous year for prices.

Author of the article:

Bloomberg News

Bloomberg News

Published Jan 16, 2023  •  Last updated 18 hours ago  •  3 minute read

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An oil and petrochemical storage facility on the outskirts of Shanghai, China, on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Oil extended its relentless rally before an OPEC+ meeting as the International Energy Agency warned that global energy security is under threat following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg Photo by Qilai Shen /Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) — Fossil fuel production in China soared in 2022, with coal and gas hitting record highs, as environmental targets took a back seat to energy security after a tumultuous year for prices. 

That swamped some good news for the climate from the steel sector, where China cut output for a second consecutive year to make good on its promise to rein in emissions from the worst-polluting industry after power generation.

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The world’s top coal mining nation dug up nearly 4.5 billion tons of the dirtiest fuel last year, an increase of 9% on 2021, the statistics bureau said on Tuesday. Production of cleaner-burning gas rose 6.4% to 218 billion cubic meters, while crude oil rose above 200 million tons for the first time since 2015, helping to cut China’s reliance on pricey imports.

As early as January last year, President Xi Jinping had flagged that China’s ambitious climate goals shouldn’t clash with its economic objectives, which include securing adequate supplies of commodities. Energy security became an even bigger priority after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the following month put a rocket under international prices. 

Drought and a power crunch over the summer highlighted the nation’s ongoing vulnerability to insufficient energy supplies. Now, China’s reopening after three years of harsh Covid restrictions has put the onus on producers to ensure they have the fuels at hand that the government deems necessary to power the economy’s recovery.

Steel production fell 2.1% in 2022 to just over 1 billion tons, although it’s uncertain whether the decline could have occurred without the slowdown in growth and the crisis in the metals-intensive property market. Output of aluminum, a lightweight material important to the green transition that nevertheless takes a lot of power to produce, topped 40 million tons for the first time as the industry closes in on the government’s capacity ceiling of 45 million tons.

The figures for December showed little impact from China’s abrupt exit from Covid Zero and a mounting wave of infections. Fossil fuels all showed output gains over the month compared with the prior year, including records for coal and gas. Aluminum also increased as the impact of drought in the south abated, while steel production fell.

Crude refining also rose over the month, although the yearly total dropped from the record set in 2021 as the government’s Covid-related curbs on mobility took their toll on demand.

This Week’s Diary

(All times Beijing unless noted otherwise.)

Tuesday, Jan 17:

  • China industrial output for December, including steel & aluminum; coal, gas & power generation; and crude oil & refining. 10:00
    • Retail sales, fixed assets, property investment, residential property sales, jobless rate
      • 4Q GDP
      • 4Q pork output and inventory levels

Wednesday, Jan 18:

  • Bloomberg China economic survey for January, 10:00
  • China’s 2nd batch of December trade data, including agricultural imports; LNG & pipeline gas imports; oil products trade breakdown; alumina, copper and rare-earth product exports; bauxite, steel & aluminum product imports

Thursday, Jan 19:

  • China December output data for base metals and oil products

Friday, Jan 20:

  • China sets monthly loan prime rates, 09:30
  • China’s 3rd batch of December trade data, including country breakdowns for energy and commodities
  • China weekly iron ore port stockpiles
  • Shanghai exchange weekly commodities inventory, ~15:30

On The Wire

China’s economy grew at the second slowest pace since the 1970s last year as Covid restrictions hammered activity, though better-than-forecast fourth quarter and December data add to optimism it may be primed for a recovery.

Profits from making fuels in Asia are poised for another record year as Europe steps up its sanctions against Russia for its war in Ukraine, according to industry researcher Rystad Energy.

Rio Tinto Group, the world’s top iron ore producer, said fourth-quarter shipments of the steelmaking material rose 4% as it sees higher-than-expected copper production in the year ahead.

Global markets got a sugar rush when China reverted to pro-growth policies in late 2022, and some are arguing it’s not too late to join the rally. Chinese equities stand to gain another 20%, oil could renew its push past $100 and copper may breach $10,000 as consumption revives in the world’s no. 2 economy. 

Commodities have the strongest outlook of any asset class in 2023, with a perfect macroeconomic environment and critically low inventories for almost every key raw material, according to the head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. 

—With assistance from Kathy Chen, Sarah Chen and Winnie Zhu.

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