China’s Appetite for Coal Power Grows

Country is backing more than half of all global coal power capacity under development.

China’s growing appetite for new coal-fired power stations has outstripped plant closures in the rest of the world since the start of last year, data shows.

photo of farmers
China increased its coal capacity by 42.9 GW in 18 months, while elsewhere, countries reduced their coal capacity. Photo byV.T. Polywoda .

Elsewhere countries reduced their capacity by 8GW in the 18 months to June because old plants were retired faster than new ones were built. But over the same period China increased its capacity by 42.9GW despite a global move towards cleaner energy sources and a pledge to limit the use of coal.

Christine Shearer, an analyst at the NGO Global Energy Monitor, said: “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.”

More than 30 countries plan to phase out coal-fired power to help reduce carbon emissions and keep global temperatures from rising to catastrophic levels. The UK has just five coal-fired power stations, with one in south Wales scheduled to close next year and two more to be converted to gas within the next two years.

China is also helping to finance a quarter of all the new coal projects in the rest of the world, including in South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

China’s coal investments, including domestic projects, mean it is backing more than half of all global coal power capacity under development.

The country has a pipeline of 147GW of coal plants that are either under construction or suspension but are likely to be revived, the report says. This is more than all existing coal plants in the EU combined and almost 50 percent higher than the 105GW of capacity planned in the rest of the world.

“Instead of expanding further, China needs to make significant reductions to its coal fleet over the coming decade,” Shearer said.

Global Energy Monitor said the gulf between China and other countries was on track to widen as Beijing pursued plans to build more new plants than the rest of the world combined.

The report says China’s continued expansion of coal power is not inevitable, and urges Beijing to strengthen its policies to discourage the plant construction and incentivize low-carbon energy.

“The path that China’s central government chooses could make or break Paris climate goals,” the report says.

Jeanett Bergan, the head of responsible investment at Norway’s largest pension fund, KLP, said China should be able to break its addiction to coal by using clean alternatives.

“China has a strong advantage that it is a global leader in solar and wind power, and last year it sold more electric cars than the rest of the world combined. China can become the world’s foremost clean energy superpower,” she said.

The country must align itself “with what is almost a worldwide consensus: all coal plants are toxic investments and ‘clean’ coal is a myth”, Bergan added.

KLP is one of many money managers to drop investments in coal in recent years. It said its $80bn (£62bn) assets were coal-free and it was considering the fund’s total carbon footprint too.

“This has meant shedding around $6.5m in over 20 Chinese coal companies. But we still have $500m invested in China and our message is crystal clear: replace coal with clean energy,” Bergan said.

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