Greenpeace East Asia has recently reported that China approved the construction of 8.63 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power plants in the first quarter of this year. This figure is almost half of what was approved in 2021, indicating a significant decrease. However, it is still concerning as China continues to expand its coal capacity.
Furthermore, domestic coal production in China is projected to increase by 300 million metric tons (MT), which represents a roughly 7% increase compared to the previous year’s production of 4.1 billion MT. This growth in coal production suggests that China’s energy mix will remain heavily reliant on coal, despite its commitments to peak emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
The Chinese government has cited concerns over energy security as the primary reason for the recent coal expansion. Last year, the country faced a series of power outages, and global coal markets experienced tightness, leading the government to prioritize securing a reliable energy supply. However, this focus on energy security has shifted the narrative, with critics arguing that it has become synonymous with a reliance on coal rather than ensuring a dependable and sustainable energy supply.
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Wu Jinghan, based in Beijing, stated, “Energy security has become a sort of code word for coal, rather than for reliable supply of energy.” This highlights the concern that the expansion of coal capacity in China will perpetuate a coal-intensive energy mix, hindering the country’s progress towards cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.
Additionally, the increased domestic coal production is expected to reduce China’s demand for coal imports. This shift may have implications for global coal markets and trade patterns, as China, the world’s largest consumer and producer of coal, reduces its reliance on imported coal.
These developments in China’s coal sector pose significant challenges to the country’s climate goals. Balancing energy security with the urgent need to transition to low-carbon alternatives remains a complex task for the Chinese government as it strives to navigate the competing demands of economic growth, energy supply, and environmental sustainability.