News | Published November 24 2019

China’s increased coal usage could jeopardise climate change targets

China’s increased coal capacity over the last 18 months could compromise the climate change targets outlined in the Paris agreement, according to a recently-published study.

The joint-study, compiled by Christine Shearer, Aiqun Yu and Ted Nace says that China is now building or reviving coal usage equivalent to the entire generating capacity of the EU, while providing financial backing for a quarter of all proposed coal plants worldwide.

Between 2005 and 2015, China had embarked on a programme of building one coal plant per week, which culminated in vast pollution in Chinese cities and overcapacity, meaning plants were inefficient in only being able to run for 50 per cent of the time.

Since 2015, the Chinese government tried to curb new-build coal, which went awry after they granted rights for provincial authorities to issue permits for new coal plant builds and five times more plants than ever before were put forward for building by local powers.

The Chinese government had reduced the amount of total energy produced by coal by nine per cent since 2012, but as energy demand has gone up, so has coal consumption, with industry groups lobbying for the country’s coal power capacity to continue going up.

Co-author of the study, Ted Nace, said: "There are three different powerful trade groups, proposing to increase the coal fleet by 40 per cent. This is sheer madness at this point."

The study goes on to say that throughout 2018 to June 2019, China increased its coal power capacity by 43 gigawatts while other nations sought to cut back.

Meanwhile, when combining the coal power currently in development with that which is currently suspended with a view to being revived, China's potential for coal generating capacity is 147.7 gigawatts, 0.3 gigawatts short of the EU’s total coal generating capacity.

China is also on track to exceed a capacity of 1,100 gigawatts of coal by next year, a scale large enough to power 31 million homes.

To keep in line with global climate change targets of sub 2C, the study says that China will need to reduce its coal power capacity by over 40 per cent from current levels by 2030.

Another co-author, Christine Shearer, 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.

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

Meanwhile, Mark Lewis, head of climate change investment research at BNP Paribas Asset Management, believes that China’s focus on coal will not yield the economic benefits they may expect.

Lewis said: "The economics will not be borne out. I would argue that almost all this new capacity that's being added will never make the economic return on which they have been premised.

“Those assets that are coming online now will have to be written down; they will be stranded assets essentially.”

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
November 24 2019

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