Why China just can’t seem to quit coal

China is a global leader in renewable energy. So why are coal plants being built?

China is presently the world's greatest emitter of carbon dioxide, with emissions that are more than twice as high as those of the United States and surpass those of the developed world as a whole.

In order to address this, the nation has established objectives to reach peak emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality fully by 2060. China is quickly putting in more renewable energy, and it expects that by 2025, a third of the country's total grid electricity would come from renewable sources. Despite these objectives, the nation continues to erect 33 gigawatts worth of new coal-fired power plants, which is three times the capacity under development globally.

China is the world's largest user, producer, and importer of coal, and it has traditionally relied on coal as a key source of energy. Not to add that the nation is home to almost half of the world's coal operational capacity.

Coal-fired power plants provide around 60% of the nation's electricity.

Unfortunately, when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, coal is also the worst fossil fuel to burn. Since coal is one of the main jobs in China, with 2.58 million people employed as of April 2022, it has been challenging for the country to transition away from storied energy businesses in favor of producing all of its energy from renewable sources. China sold coal for about 436 million dollars in 2020.

China's enormous economy requires a lot of coal, and recently that requirement has increased. At the end of 2021, a series of power outages across China demonstrated how dependent China's economy is still on coal. There has also been pressure on other nations that supply coal to China. For the sake of energy security, Indonesia prohibited coal exports in January; this might result in increased coal mining on Chinese land. China produced a record-breaking 4.07 billion tonnes of coal in 2021.

According to Georgetown University assistant professor of energy and environment Joanna Lewis, the possibility of economic and political instability is the main concern with eliminating coal as a source of energy. “I think there’s this fear of moving away from the status quo and into this new realm of clean and advanced energy technologies, even though they’re extremely well positioned to do so,” she believes.

However, these changes may make it very difficult to achieve climate change targets. The administration of the nation declared intentions to increase the capacity of coal production by 300 million tons by the end of the year in April, which would increase already high emissions for power generation that isn't even required. 

Although most of China's coal plants are now only operating at 50% of their capacity, Li Shuo, a senior global policy advisor for Greenpeace, said on NPR in April that adding more plants would still stimulate the economy. He said that the idea of guaranteeing energy security has supplanted carbon neutrality.

On the other hand, China is now the greatest worldwide leader in the generation of renewable energy and is probably going to remain such for the next five years. China had more renewable energy potential than 1,000 gigawatts as of 2021, which is roughly three times more than the US, the second-place country.

“This is an important moment, in many ways, in China’s future energy trajectory. Now that they’ve reached the technical sophistication with a lot of the clean energy technologies—that’s taken them essentially two decades to build up expertise—they could really lead the world in a low carbon transition and domestic energy model that could really be quite ambitious or they could just sort of stick to the old coal-based model,”  Lewis argues.

The US and China have been attempting to solve these issues as the two countries with the highest carbon emissions worldwide. During the COP26 conferences last year, the nations made an announcement about their intention to work together to speed up the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Sharing policy and technological advancements, establishing climate targets, and "reviving" a climate working group are all part of the proposal. However, the program has come under fire for being too nebulous, and even US climate envoy John Kerry has acknowledged that this deal is insufficient to reach the Paris targets.

Nevertheless, Lewis continues, it has been challenging to convince China and the US to cooperate on practically anything in recent years.

“I think it’s meaningful that climate is sort of the one area right now where China and the US have some kind of cooperation happening,” Lewis claims. “It’s probably the most active area of cooperation. That’s not saying a lot, though.” 

Economic rivalry between the US and China has existed for a while, but recently, tensions have increased. Human rights concerns recent changes in China's relations with Russia as well as abuses against the Uyghur Muslim community that have resulted in US sanctions against individual Chinese leaders. According to Paul Haenle of the Carnegie Endowment, these disputes are putting stress on the bilateral relationship, with climate change serving as the one "bright spot".

China has the capacity to be a global leader in addressing climate change. However, the fast expansion of coal is a significant, counterproductive obstacle preventing them from achieving their ambitious but essential climate goals.

Why China just can’t seem to quit coal Why China just can’t seem to quit coal Reviewed by Lilit on June 24, 2022 Rating: 5
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