China doubles down on coal as energy crunch bites
China has stepped up spending on coal in the face of extreme weather, a domestic energy crunch and rising global fuel prices — raising concerns Beijing’s policies may hinder the fight against climate change.
The country is the world’s biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases driving global warming, and President Xi Jinping has vowed to reduce coal use from 2026 as part of a broad set of climate promises.
Beijing has committed to peaking its carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
Overall carbon emissions in China have fallen for four consecutive quarters on the back of an economic slowdown, research reported by climate monitor Carbon Brief showed in early September.
But at the same time, slowing growth has led authorities to rely on smokestack industries in an effort to boost the economy.
The push to shore up coal power — which still makes up most of China’s energy supply — has alarmed analysts who warn that it will make an eventual transition to a renewables-dominated energy mix more difficult.
Spooked by an energy shortage last autumn, Chinese authorities in spring ordered coal producers to add 300 million tons of mining capacity this year — the equivalent of an extra month of coal production for the country.
In just the first quarter of 2022, regulators endorsed the equivalent of half the entire coal-fired power plant capacity approved in 2021, according to Greenpeace.
Authorities have also burned and mined more coal in recent weeks in order to meet increased air conditioning demand and make up for shrunken hydropower dams during China’s hottest-ever summer. Premier Li Keqiang in June called for “releasing advanced coal capacity, as much as possible, and implementing long-term coal supply.”
The independent Climate Action Tracker warns that even the “most binding” climate targets laid out by Beijing would be in line with global warming of between 3-4 degrees Celsius before the end of the century — well above the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5 C.
To meet that goal, it said, China would “need to reduce emissions as early as possible and well before 2030” — as well as “decrease coal and other fossil fuel consumption at a much faster rate than currently planned.”
China has made real progress in building up renewable energy capacity.
The current operating solar capacity in the country accounts for nearly half the global total, according to San Francisco-based nongovernmental organization Global Energy Monitor.
But unlike wind or sunlight, stockpiles of coal and gas can be held for long periods of time and deployed as needed, giving local authorities a sense of security.
Source: Arab News