China doubles coal consumption as energy crisis hits

China has increased spending on coal amid severe weather, domestic energy crisis and rising global fuel prices, raising concerns Beijing police can hamper the fight against climate change.

The country is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, and President Xi Jinping has pledged to reduce coal use from 2026 as part of a wide range climate promises.

Beijing has pledged to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Overall carbon emissions in China have fallen for four consecutive quarters due to an economic slowdown, according to a study published by climate monitor Carbon Brief in early September.

But at the same time, slowing growth has led authorities to rely on chimney industries to stimulate the economy.

The push to consolidate coal-fired power – which still makes up the bulk of China’s energy supply – has alarmed analysts who warn it will make an eventual transition to an energy mix dominated by renewables more difficult.

Spooked by an energy shortage last fall, Chinese authorities in the spring ordered coal producers to add 300 million tonnes of mining capacity this year, equivalent to an extra month of coal production for the country.

In the first quarter of 2022 alone, regulators approved the equivalent of half of the total coal-fired power plant capacity approved in 2021, according to Greenpeace.

– Inefficiencies –

Authorities have also been burning and mining more coal in recent weeks to meet increased demand for air conditioning and to compensate for dwindling hydroelectric dams during China’s hottest summer on record.

Premier Li Keqiang called in June to “release advanced coal capacity as much as possible and establish long-term coal supply.”

The independent Climate Action Tracker warns that even the “toughest” climate targets set by Beijing would be in line with global warming of three to four degrees Celsius before the end of the century – well above the Agreement’s target of Paris to limit global warming to 1.5C.

To achieve this goal, he said, China “should reduce emissions as soon as possible and well before 2030” – as well as “reduce the consumption of coal and other fossil fuels at a rate much faster than currently planned”.

Beijing’s reluctance to ditch coal stems in part from inefficiencies in its power grid that prevent excess energy from being transported across regions.

Coal and gas offer local authorities a ready-to-use source of energy and are, in practice, “the only way for local authorities to avoid power shortages”, wrote the energy researcher Lauri Myllyvirta in a Carbon Brief report.

– ‘Politically crucial year’ –

China has made real progress in building renewable energy capacity.

The country’s current operational solar capacity is almost half of the global total, according to the San Francisco-based nongovernmental organization Global Energy Monitor (GEM).

But unlike wind or sunlight, coal and gas stocks can be held for long periods of time and deployed as needed, giving local authorities a sense of security.

Yet building more coal plants means less focus on fixing problems with the grid, Myllyvirta said in comments to AFP, warning plant owners would be motivated to “slow down the transition as they will have an interest in use their brand new assets”. “.

At the same time, the central government wants to “avoid large-scale power cuts, which we witnessed last winter in the northeastern provinces, in this politically crucial year for Xi”, said Byford Tsang, senior policy adviser to the climate think tank E3G. AFP.

President Xi is set to secure an unprecedented third term at a major Communist Party meeting next month.

Tsang said the spike in international energy prices caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine also pushed Beijing to boost domestic coal production, indicating a 17.5% drop in coal imports in the first half of the year. this year compared to the previous year.

Expanding coal capacity as a quick fix, however, runs counter to β€œthe immediate annual reductions in coal use that the UN and major research bodies have called for,” GEM analysts said. .

GEM said all of China’s proposed new mines could together emit up to six million tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas, each year once operational. That’s roughly equivalent to Austria’s annual methane emissions, according to World Bank data.

“The more coal China builds now, the harder it becomes to fund and deliver renewable energy projects later,” Wu Jinghan, climate and energy project manager for Greenpeace East Asia, told AFP.

“The longer we wait to transition, the steeper the transition path becomes,” Wu said. “That means more disruption and higher risk, financially and ecologically.”