Beijing has vowed to dampen its coal activities to help reduce the worldwide emission of greenhouse gases. However, a recent joint report from environmental groups shows China doing quite the opposite, thus putting global climate change goals in danger.
Global Energy Monitor, Sierra Club, and Greenpeace have published a joint report titled Boom and Bust 2019: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline. The findings are mostly positive — a 20 percent decline in completed coal plants, a 24 percent drop in pre-construction activity, and a 39 percent decrease in new coal plant construction. It seems like nations are doing their best to hit the target for emission reductions.
However, the report also discovered an exception to these joint measure: China. Satellite images show the East Asian nation’s sneaky move to revive suspended coal projects. Besides that, the Chinese government is also financing the construction of many coal-fired plants overseas as well. To make matters worse, the China Electricity Council proposed a 1,300-gigawatt coal capacity cap for the country — that’s 259 gigawatts more than the U.S. coal industry.
Due to such moves by China, the report strongly indicates that global climate goals will not be met so long as coal operations are not fully shut down. Lauri Myllyvirta, the senior analyst of the Greenpeace Global Air Pollution Unit, explained that “another coal power construction spree would be near impossible to reconcile with emission reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. China’s energy targets have a greater bearing on global emissions than any other national policy decision.” (Sierra Club)
Four years ago, 195 countries pledged to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and other climate-related activities as they adopted the Paris Agreement on December 12. Through this agreement, participating countries are required to create policies, make goals to rapidly reduce emissions, and implement policies that reflect the worldwide pledge’s vision. One of the targets of the agreement is scaling down coal-fired electricity.
How bad is it?
Despite China’s measures to reduce coal in 2012 and 2013, the country seems to be ignoring its own regulations. Methane emissions from the country continue to grow. “China’s methane regulations have not had a detectable impact on the country’s methane emissions,” Scot Miller, assistant professor in the department of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement (Japan Times).
The Paris Agreement requires nations to limit the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2°C by any means possible. If coal isn’t phased out by mid-century, the chances of achieving that are thought to be impossible. “We need to radically phase down coal plant use over the next decade to keep on track for Paris climate goals,” Christine Shearer, an analyst for Global Energy Monitor, said in a statement (Phys.Org).
China has been a major coal consumer for decades. In fact, Chinese coal consumption might even be equal to the rest of the world combined, as shown by studies conducted in 2014. Yet even as nations abide by the Paris Agreement, China is allowing its coal consumption to reach new highs.
Many scientists have warned that a continuous increase in coal production might result in dire consequences for the world’s climate. But with the China Electrical Council’s proposal, as well as the ongoing surge in the country’s coal activities, humanity could face further climate consequences.