‘Two-headed beast’: China’s coal addiction erodes climate goals


Beijing, Sept 27 (AFP/APP):China’s surprise pledge to slash its carbon footprint to zero by 2060 was met with cautious applause, but fresh spending on coal to rev up a virus-hit economy threatens to nullify its audacious bid to lead the world into a low carbon future.

The fossil fuel has powered China’s economic surge over the last thirty years, and the nation burns about half the coal used globally each year. Between 2000 and 2018, its annual carbon emissions nearly tripled, and it now accounts for nearly a third of the world’s total greenhouse gases linked to global warming. Despite pledges to wean the economy off coal with the world’s most ambitious investment in renewables, China’s coal consumption climbed back in June this year to near the peak levels seen in 2013.

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That was in part due to a pivot back to coal after geopolitical uncertainty in the Saudi peninsula, China’s main oil supplier. But the coronavirus, which saw the Chinese economy contract for the first time in 30 years, also opened the taps from government lenders to build new coal plants to revive flatlining provincial economies. There is a “tension at the heart of China’s energy planning” Li Shuo, senior climate and energy officer at Greenpeace China, told AFP. It “pits Beijing’s strategic interests against the immediate goals of cash-strapped provincial governments, makes it difficult to walk the talk” on cleaner future.

This week Xi Jinping unveiled China’s bold pitch for leadership on global warming at the United Nations, vowing his nation will reach peak emissions before 2030 and go carbon neutral thirty years later. It is the first time China has announced any plans to become carbon neutral, but so far there have been no details on how the country would rebalance away from fossil fuels.

In the first half of 2020 China approved 23 gigawatts-worth of new coal power projects, more than the previous two years combined, according to Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a San Francisco-based environmental NGO. “A new fleet of coal plants is in direct contradiction with China’s pledge to peak emissions before 2030,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, China analyst at Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

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