Power plant of China Energy in Xingyang, Windmemories (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Coal’s Comeback in China Threatens Decarbonisation Goals, Greenpeace Warns

August 5, 2023
1 min read

According to Greenpeace, China has approved almost 30GW of new coal power capacity in Q2 of 2023, driving total approvals to 50.4GW in H1 of the year. This number exceeds the total coal power capacity approved in the entirety of 2021 and highlights a rapid expansion that Greenpeace believes risks China’s decarbonisation goals. While local governments see coal power as a reliable solution for energy security and stabilising the economy, this could sideline key climate-change solutions like energy storage that China needs to develop as part of its transition to renewable energy.

Even though China is the biggest maker of renewable energy, its electric network has difficulty managing the inconsistent supply from these sources. Experts suggest that China needs to invest in energy-storage systems, which would allow a flexible grid that can provide power despite fluctuations among multiple generation sources. But Greenpeace thinks that without direct rules from the main government, regions are unsure about the correct path to follow.

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China is using more coal as it faces extreme weather such as floods, droughts, and heatwaves, which have put pressure on its energy resources. The surge in new coal plants, aimed at meeting the growing power demand, may complicate and financially strain China’s climate pledges, according to Xinyi Shen, a researcher at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

To align with the Paris agreement targets, a faster emissions peak and a move away from coal are required, Shen said. In contrast, Rebecca Nadin, Director of Global Risks & Resilience at the Overseas Development Institute, suggested that China’s commitments to emission reductions will only have a meaningful impact if they’re mainstreamed in both the dual circulation strategy and urbanization policies. These disparate views reflect the ongoing challenges China faces in balancing its energy security needs with its decarbonisation goals.

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