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China proving unfaithful to its Green vows: ‘No country matches China’s appetite for new coal’

Surging coal use in China threatens global CO2 goals

By Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter

In 2010, Beijing’s attempts to revive the Chinese economy sent coal consumption and carbon dioxide emissions soaring.

It could be happening again.

China permitted more new coal-fired power plants in March than it did in all of 2019. The new permits come on the heels of an uptick in coal plant construction last year — reversing a two-year slowdown in China’s coal expansion.

The build-out has immense stakes for the planet. China consumes more than half the world’s coal. Today, it has almost as much new coal generation in planning or construction (206 gigawatts) as the United States has in operation (235 GW at the end of 2019).

All those new plants would emit 35.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide if they ran for 40 years, said Christine Shearer, who runs the coal program at Global Energy Monitor, a research group that tracks fossil fuel infrastructure. By comparison, the global economy emitted 36.8 billion metric tons last year.

“China’s coal plant build-out could single-handedly undermine the reductions in coal power use that the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] has said are necessary to keep warming below 2C, even if the rest of the world phased out coal power by 2030,” she wrote in an email.

Plans for new coal plants come as China prepares its next five-year plan, which governs economic development, and as Beijing plots its recovery from the novel coronavirus. China’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 25% in February, but they’ve since returned to normal levels as the country’s economy rebounds from lockdowns designed to prevent the virus’s spread.

When China faced economic turmoil a decade ago, the government pumped massive amounts of stimulus into the economy, with state-owned enterprises spending large sums of money to offset a collapse in exports.

The move stoked demand for electricity — and coal-fired power in particular. Chinese coal consumption increased from 1.6 billion metric tons of oil equivalent in 2009 to 1.9 billion metric tons in 2011, according to statistics compiled by BP PLC.

That, in turn, sent emissions soaring. In 2010, China’s carbon dioxide output increased by 10.4%, according to the Global Carbon Project — helping fuel a global emissions spike of 5.9%. The increase, which was also driven by the United States, Europe and India, represented the largest year-over-year increase in global CO2 emissions.