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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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What Is Pushing China Back To Coal?

Data released by the Chinese energy bureau this week shows that the country added a whopping 194 million tonnes of coal mining capacity over the course of 2018. This revelation comes in direct contrast with China’s widely publicized promises to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, especially dirty coal, as well as specific avowals to do away with excess mining capacity.

By the end of last year, according to numbers from the National Energy Administration, China’s total coal mining capacity had gone from 3.34 billion tonnes at the end of 2017 to 3.53 billion. These numbers do not even take into account a further 1.03 billion tonnes per year of already-approved coal capacity currently under construction, nor do they include another 370 million tonnes per year that are currently being extracted as part of a trial operation. What’s more, China’s National Energy Administration has already greenlighted an additional seven coal mining operations which altogether would have a capacity of million tonnes per year within a period of time which already started at the beginning of 2019.

According to data published by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, Chinese mines produced 3.55 billion tonnes of coal last year, a 5.2 percent increase as compared to 2017. The bureau also reported that in 2018 the country generated a total of 4.979 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity from coal-fired power plants, 6 percent higher than the same measure in 2017.

While coal mining capacity has seen an overall increase, however, the total number of coal mines in China has actually declined. At the end of 2018, the Chinese National Energy Administration reported 3,373 domestic coal mines, down from 3,907 in 2017. The majority of the coal mines that have been shuttered recently were small and ineffective operations in eastern China. At the same time, production in the west has seen considerable expansion in capacity. Related: Sources: Saudis Admit They Want $70 Oil

This increase in Chinese coal capacity has attracted negative attention from the international community, with critics voicing concern that this development goes directly against the nation’s promise to decrease the amount of coal used in their total energy mix, and therefore will prevent the world’s second-largest economy from meeting its committed goal of capping their carbon emissions by 2030.

In fact, according to a report released by the International Energy Agency this week, not only are global carbon dioxide emissions continuing to climb, but ever-increasing energy demand around the world has led to record-high emissions from particularly dirty coal-fired plants. Last year the world’s energy demand grew by 2.3 percent, and 70 percent of that demand was met by fossil fuels, with a large contribution from relatively young coal-fired plants in Asia. Thanks in large part to these plants, global emissions from coal-fired power plants surpassed 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide for the first time in history.

These newly released numbers deal a crushing blow to any optimism about decreasing global emissions and even the overall effectiveness of the Paris climate agreement. For a while, things were looking up: emissions decreased, although very slightly, from 2014 through 2016, and coal emissions, in particular, went down. But now that progress appears to be in reverse. In response to this week’s International Energy Agency report, Stanford University professor of Earth system science Rob Jackson told the Washington Post, “We are in deep trouble. The climate consequences are catastrophic. I don’t use any word like that very often. But we are headed for disaster, and nobody seems to be able to slow things down.”

China is only one part of the problem. Discouragingly; the United States and Europe have seen an increase in admissions as well. That being said, countries with massive and rapidly expanding middle classes such as China and India can be expected to continue driving up demand and therefore emissions, especially if they continue to lean on fossil fuels to fill their populaces’ growing need. What’s more, China’s fleet of coal plants are mostly young--around an average of 12 years old with a total lifespan of 40 years--and as their capacity continues to increase, we can expect coal-fired emissions to keep breaking records in the coming years.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Peter B on March 26 2019 said:
    Coal is a wonderful and natural fuel. As the world gets richer we will use more not less of it. Rather than destroy our land by building huge solar and wind factories and then store their energy in toxic batteries for peak use we should rely on nature. Nature has stored ancient sunshine in coal, gas, and oil. All we need to do is dig it up and use it whenever we need it (toxic batteries not required).
  • aldo laghi on March 27 2019 said:
    the Chinese are not mentally impaired by political correctness

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