Space & Innovation

In China, Coal Use Way Down, Solar Spikes

China's coal consumption dropped by 3.7 percent between 2014 and 2015 as the country reduces its energy use and invests in wind and solar. Continue reading →

China on Monday reported that its coal consumption dropped 3.7 percent between 2014 and 2015 as the country grapples with a struggling economy and urban air pollution, and begins work on meeting its climate commitments.

The fall in coal use last year follows a 2.9 percent drop in 2014. In response to its declining consumption, government officials also announced Monday that the country plans to lay off about 1.8 million coal and steel workers as thousands of coal mines shutter across the country.

The data released by China's National Bureau of Statistics also show that electricity produced from renewable energy sources across China is spiking - with wind power up 33.5 percent between 2014 and 2015, and solar power production up about 74 percent in that time.

What's Ahead for Climate Change in 2016?

Burning coal is the globe's leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and China is the world's largest burner of coal, consuming more than three times that of the U.S. Coal use in the United States. increased about 4 percent between 2012 and 2013, the most recent year for which U.S. data are available.

China's cutbacks in coal use are critical to the success of the Paris climate agreement struck last December. The country pledged to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and, in that time, reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by up to 65 percent below 2005 levels.

China is also trying to clean up some of its notoriously polluted air, and reducing its reliance on coal-fired power plants is one way it is trying to accomplish that.

Paris Climate Deal: What You Need to Know

The data show that as China's overall coal use declined last year, the country's coal imports fell nearly 30 percent. Coal accounts for 64 percent of the country's total energy use.

"The country is looking to invest more in wind and solar and efficiency, so they're shutting down some of their dirtier coal plants, and in their new-builds of coal, they're trying to do them in a manner that's more environmentally sensitive," said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

China installed 32.5 gigawatts of wind and 18.3 gigawatts of solar power in 2015. The institute is forecasting that China will install more than 22 gigawatts of wind and 18 gigawatts of solar power in 2016. China had more than 114 gigawatts of wind power installed by the end of 2014, enough to power 110 million homes.

Pros and Cons of Cheaper Gas

China's changing economy is the biggest factor in its declining coal use, Sanzillo said.

"You have economic changes going on in the country where in order to get economic growth, they need less energy," Sanzillo said. "That's because they're doing less industrial production and more production for consumer goods."

More From Climate Central:

China's Coal Use Declines As Electricity Demand Falls Flat What You Need to Know About U.S.-China Climate Pact China Works Toward Kicking its Coal Habit This article originally appeared on Climate Central, all rights reserved.

Poor air quality from coal-fired power plants in Beijing and other cities in China has prompted Chinese authorities to cut coal use nationwide.

You've heard a lot about how human-driven climate change will lead to hotter temperatures, cause sea levels to rise and make storms more intense. But it's projected to have plenty of other unpleasant and even disastrous effects as well. Here are 10 of them. Scientists believe that rising temperatures will lead to increased evaporation of the Great Lakes' water, and precipitation won't make up the difference. That means we're likely to see declines in water levels over the next century, and one study predicts they may drop as much as 8 feet.

Earth Shots: Must See Planet Pics (Sept. 21)

Thanks to climate change, jumbo-sized ragweed plants will spew out more pollen for a longer, more miserable allergy season.

Here Are 10 Striking Images Of Future Sea Levels

By altering the wild environment, climate change makes it easier for newly mutated microbes to jump between species, and it's likely that as a result, diseases will emerge and spread across the globe even more rapidly.

A recent Nature article reported that male Australian central bearded dragons have been growing female genitalia because of rising temperatures, a phenomenon that had not previously been observed in that species.

10 Signs Climate Change Is Already Happening

Rising sea levels are wiping out beaches all over the world already. Importing fresh sand and building them up again is only a temporary solution. To make matters worse, there's currently a sand shortage, due to demand from fracking, glass and cement making.

Bark beetles are eating old growth forests, because the winters aren't cold enough to kill them off. So more trees like this American Elm will die.

VIDEO: Global Warming And Climate Change: What's The Diff?

Warmer temperatures mean there will be more water vapor trapped in the atmosphere, leading to more lightning. A University of California-Berkeley study predicts that lightning strikes will increase by about 12 percent for every degree Celsius gained.

Sierra Nevada Snowpack Worst In Five Centuries

Wine grape harvests are being hurt. Regions that have historically supplied the world’s best wine will no longer be hospitable climates to grow wine grapes, according to research by the Environmental Defense Fund and others.

Coffee flavor depends upon really narrow conditions of temperature and moisture, and climate change is going to wreak havoc with that. Worse yet, as coffee growing regions become warmer, pests that couldn't survive in the past will ravage the crops. This is already being seen in Costa Rica, India and Ethiopia, which have experienced sharp declines in crop yields.

California Drought by the Numbers

Scientists say that as ice sheets and glaciers melt, the weight that's removed from the Earth's crust changes the stresses upon volcanoes. That unloading effect can trigger eruptions.

What Warming Means For 4 Of Summer’s Worst Pests