Chinese coal boom a ‘direct threat’ to 1.5C goal, analysts warn

Energy security fears prompted Beijing to rapidly accelerate coal power plans last year, raising concerns about the country’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions

A boom in China’s coal power generation is derailing global efforts to limit global heating to 1.5C, analysts have warned.

Concerns were raised because Beijing rapidly accelerated plans for new coal power plants in the second half of last year in a bid to increase its energy security.

According to a report by think-tank E3G, published today, China’s coal project pipeline grew by nearly 50% in the last six months of 2022 taking the total to 250GW. It says developments in China diverge sharply from the rest of the world, where combined coal power plans shrank to 97GW over the same period – the lowest level in modern history.

China is still a global leader in the rollout of renewable energy. The country is adding clean energy projects to the grid almost as fast as the rest of the world combined.

But Leo Roberts from E3G’s coal transition programme believes China’s coal expansion is a “direct threat” to the Paris Agreement goal.

Increasing scale of the challenge

In 2015, nations agreed to pursue efforts to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Crossing that threshold would make climate impacts increasingly harmful to people and the entire planet.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says no new unabated coal-fired power stations can be built if the world wants to reach that goal.

“Every new coal power station that comes online increases the scale of the challenge to decarbonise the global economy,” Roberts told Climate Home News. “China’s coal boom is actually undermining significant progress away from coal in all other parts of the world.”

The rapid expansion of China’s coal power plans comes as Beijing seeks to strengthen its energy security. Geopolitical tensions affecting global energy prices and domestic supply issues have made policymakers reconsider previous intentions.

After blackouts, China’s green goals take back seat to energy security

At a climate summit in April 2021, China’s president Xi Jinping vowed the country would “strictly control coal-fired power generation projects, and strictly limit the increase in coal consumption”.

At the time his words mirrored the central government’s successful attempts to curb new coal projects. E3G analysis shows that new coal power proposals in China collapsed by 75% between 2015 and July 2022.

China’s rapid U-turn

The recent coal boom has reversed this trend and China is now a clear international outlier. It curren

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