Coal-fired dragon in China ignores climate zealots

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

China has once again shrugged off global calls for reductions in fossil fuel emissions by reaffirming its commitment to produce and consume more coal than ever. Developments in the coal sector during the past six months indicate that the dragon is determined to avoid a repetition of 2021, when more than 17 provinces experienced unprecedented blackouts due to energy shortages. 

While the Western media were busy covering COVID lockdowns, vaccines and woke nonsense in 2021, millions of households in China were thrust into darkness by electricity-supply failures. Industrial plants were forced to shut down and economies slumped in at least 15 provinces. 

Already the world’s biggest consumer of coal, China is now eager to increase consumption to stave off energy shortfalls. Having produced a globe-leading 4.1 billion tons of coal last year, the country plans to add 300 million tons of production in 2022.

Between July and October 2021, the ANI news agency reports, China added 464 metric tons of annual capacity, which is greater than the annual production of South Africa — the world’s seventh largest producer.

At least 169 new coal mines are expected to be added to the 1,600 existing mines in the coming years. In May, China decided to invest 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) toward its coal power plants, bringing much needed financial relief to the plants and ensuring that they produce electricity at maximum capacity.

China accounts for at least 52 percent of 176 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity under construction in 20 countries (2021). In other words, China builds more than half of all coal power plants in the world. 

While most of the Western world is trying to economically punish Russia for its assault on Ukraine, China is doing the opposite and importing record-high volumes of Russian coal. CNN reported, “China’s coal imports from Russia nearly doubled between March and April, reaching 4.42 million metric tons.” The imports were helped by Beijing’s decision to remove import duty on coal. Russia now accounts for around 20 percent of Chinese coal imports.

In the future, Chinese imports will be boosted by coal from Mongolia. In March of this year, Mongolia decided to jump-start two railway lines — totaling more than 1,000 miles in length —  and is expected to increase exports of predominantly coal, iron ore and copper to a value of $20 billion by 2029. The rail infrastructure will be a game-changer for both the Mongolian economy and for meeting Chinese coal demand. 

Much to the disappointment of anti-fossil fuel crusaders, there is no end in sight for coal growth in China. The currently predicted peak-coal timeline for China is purely an arbitrary number based on assumptions. 

“This mentality of ensuring energy security has become dominant, trumping carbon neutrality. We are moving into a relatively unfavorable time period for climate action in China,” lamented a senior global policy adviser for Greenpeace.

For Beijing, the priority is economic recovery from the disruptions of COVID lockdowns and a slump in the real estate market. To do so, the country cannot repeat 2021’s failure to meet energy needs.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, VA., and holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK. He resides in Bengaluru, India. 


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