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China’s Coal Boom Undermines Its Clean Energy Success

China's remarkable achievements in renewable capacity rollout are overshadowed by the country's continued coal capacity expansion, which steers it off track to meet its climate targets, a new report showed on Monday.  

"Currently, progress on clean energy deployment is undermined by continued coal capacity expansion and a rapid growth of energy consumption," the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and the Heinrich Böll Foundation said in their annual outlook report on China's climate target progress.  

"The most important development of 2023 is that China's deployment of clean energy generation has reached the scale projected in 1.5-degree scenarios, a remarkable achievement," the report said.

However, investments in coal-based power capacity have accelerated, and even if existing coal capacity will be retired at an accelerated pace, China's coal-fired power capacity is still on track to rise by 23% by 2030 from current levels, according to the authors of the report.  

Emissions have rebounded in 2023 due to the collapse in hydropower generation due to droughts (replaced mostly by coal) and to the reopening after the Covid lockdowns, the report showed.

"As a result, China is badly off track to two commitments it has made under the Paris Agreement: 'strictly controlling' new coal power projects during the 2021 to 2025 period, and reducing energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP) by 13.5% from 2020 to 2025," the report reads.

"It is entirely possible for emissions to fall while capacity increases, but the buildup of new coal power plants makes emissions peaking economically and politically more challenging to implement," the authors said.  

China is the world's biggest consumer of coal and the largest importer of crude oil. Despite soaring renewable power capacity installations in recent years, China continues to consume growing volumes of coal, oil, and natural gas and continues to approve the construction of new coal-fired power capacity.

During the first half of 2023 alone, China approved more than 50 GW of new coal power, Greenpeace said in a report in August. That's more than it did in all of 2021, the environmental campaign group said.

By Charles Kennedy for

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Charles Kennedy

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