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China’s unwavering commitment to coal is a bucket of cold water over green global visions

Thanks to dry weather, China’s dams are failing to produce the expected electricity this year.

“Nationwide hydro generation in the first five months of 2023 was the lowest for the time of year since 2015, despite the commissioning of massive new dams and generating stations,” Reuters reported earlier this summer.

The result? “China’s coal-fired generation has increased the most of any power source this year as hydroelectric production has fallen amid lower-than-normal rainfalls that have reduced water levels on the biggest rivers and depleted hydro reservoirs,” has reported.

In short, China’s embrace of coal as its fuel of choice for generating electricity continues to confound climate-obsessed predictions about the demise of fossil fuels.

Indeed, China’s reliance on coal has only increased this year.

Those clinging to the 2016 Paris agreement and the so-called “net zero” agenda are no match for the energy needs of many countries — most conspicuously China, the world’s largest consumer of coal.

Despite pledging to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, China’s commitment to coal shows no signs of waning. The country not only accounts for a staggering 51 percent of global coal production, but also commands half of global coal demand. It is little wonder that China is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, putting out nearly twice as much as the second-largest emitter, the U.S.

Last year, there was a 38 percent increase in new coal-fired generating capacity under development in China. That translates to about 366 gigawatts of new coal generation.

According to ChinaDaily, “China’s railways handled 777 million tons of thermal coal during the period, up 13 percent year-on-year…n total, more than 1 billion tons of coal were handled by the railways during the period, up 1.6 percent from a year earlier.”

China’s unabated and increasing use of coal has been driven by various factors. China has made efforts to diversify its energy mix and promote sources such as wind and solar power, but the sheer scale of its energy demands necessitates the continued use of coal. 

The country’s rapid industrialization and urbanization have created an insatiable appetite for energy, outstripping the capacity of so-called renewable sources to meet demand. As a result, China remains heavily dependent on coal to power its industries, provide electricity to its growing population, and fuel its economic expansion.

Moreover, China’s stance on coal extends beyond its own borders. The country’s Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious development strategy focused on infrastructure investment and connectivity across Asia, Europe and Africa, is also expanding demand for fossil fuels. Through Belt and Road, China has been investing heavily in coal-fired power plants in developing countries, including those in Africa. 

Chinese coal exports have also expanded to Southeast Asia, where the demand for coal remains high. By flexing its economic muscle and supplying coal to regions grappling with their own energy needs, China solidifies its influence in the global energy landscape. This both bolsters China’s economic power and perpetuates the carbon-intensive status quo.

China’s energy makeup and its related emissions profile should be a wakeup call for policymakers in the West, who continue to punish their people with draconic plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Proposals to make households pay more for fuel, electricity and commodities are useless when every effort to reduce emissions will be easily offset by China’s massive increases in coal consumption. 

China has the right to use the resources it wants to use, and its choice of coal is definitely making energy more affordable for its people. But its lack of interest in any sort of climate-related emissions reduction has consequences for pie-in-the-sky ideas about eliminating fossil fuels.

As long as China shows no sign whatsoever of reducing its dependence on coal or its carbon footprint, it is useless for lawmakers and regulators in developed countries to torture their own citizens by restricting their access to affordable energy.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia.


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