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Surge in newbuild coal in China – despite climate warnings

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China added 42.9 GW of net new coal generating capacity between the start of 2018 and June 2019, while the rest of the world decreased its coal power capacity by 8.1 GW, according to figures from Global Energy Monitor (GEM), an NGO that tracks fossil fuel infrastructure. 

Researchers warn that the upsurge in China’s coal construction activity could ultimately impede the world’s ability to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Across the country, GEM reports that around 121 GW of coal-fired capacity is being built, while an additional 26.4 GW of construction projects are currently suspended and likely to be revived. As a point of comparison, the entire coal generating capacity of the European Union currently stands at around 150 GW. 

GEM’s report, Out of Step: China is driving the continued growth of the global coal fleet, finds that if the country continues to increase its total coal capacity through 2035, China’s coal power generation alone will far exceed the total coal generation permitted to keep global warming below 2°C. However, energy industry groups – including the China Electricity Council and the Electric Power Planning and Design Institute – have suggested that the country’s current coal power capacity of 1,027 GW should be increased to a range of 1,200 and 1,400 GW by 2035. 

‘China’s proposed coal expansion is so far out of alignment with the Paris Agreement that it would put the necessary reductions in coal power out of reach, even if every other country were to completely eliminate its coal fleet,’ said Christine Shearer of Global Energy Monitor. ‘Instead of expanding further, China needs to make significant reductions to its coal fleet over the coming decade.’ 

Widespread apprehension about air pollution and overinvestment in coal led Chinese authorities to suspend the construction of hundreds of power stations in 2016. But concerns about the country’s economy have now risen to the fore – with both local and national governments viewing coal plants as a valuable source of local jobs and investment. Meanwhile, the country’s CO2 emissions reached a record high last year. 

To meet the reductions in coal power use defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for halting global warming below 2°C, China would have to slash its capacity more than 40% to 600 GW by 2030, says the report.

Photo: Shutterstock

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