China’s coal plant approvals up despite climate goals: Greenpeace

Surge in coal power construction comes despite pledge to bring emissions to a peak by 2030.

A coal plant behind a factory in Baotou, China.
China has approved the construction of 8.63 gigawatts of coal power in the first quarter, nearly half the amount seen in all of 2021, according to Greenpeace [File: David Gray/Reuters]

China approved the construction of 8.63 gigawatts (GW) of coal power in the first quarter of this year, nearly half the amount seen in all of 2021, as energy security trumps climate concerns, environment group Greenpeace said on Wednesday.

China has promised to strictly control coal power capacity over the 2021-2025 period as it bids to bring its climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions — the highest in the world — to a peak by 2030. Its new projects also slowed last year.

But rising energy supply worries, driven in part by a wave of power outages last September, have triggered an increase in approvals, with provincial authorities aiming to resolve “shortcomings in local power generation”, Greenpeace said in a research report, citing approval documents.

“Energy security has become a sort of code word for coal, rather than for reliable supply of energy,” said Wu Jinghan, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace in Beijing.

China’s National Energy Administration did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

China’s coal-fired power construction plans were a chief point of contention during global climate talks in Glasgow last year, where countries agreed to “phase down” rather than “phase out” global coal use.

Beijing, the world’s biggest producer and user of coal, has already promised to start cutting consumption, but only after 2025, and researchers with the State Grid have said that 150GW of new coal power capacity could be built before then.

According to forecasts from the China Electricity Council published this month, China’s total power generation capacity is expected to reach 3,000GW by 2025, with fossil fuel sources amounting to 49%, implying a 261GW increase in coal- and natural gas-fired power compared with the end of last year.

Though China is accelerating wind and solar power construction, building more coal capacity will make it harder for renewable projects to gain access to the grids and reach consumers, Wu said.

“The energy market gets warped around coal,” she said.

Source: Reuters