Coal turkey can break China’s addiction to fossil fuels

Beijing could save up to US$1.6 trillion by phasing out coal power plants with eco-friendly alternatives

China might be a world leader in clean energy technology but its addiction to coal-fired power stations is creating an ecological nightmare.

Even now, President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party government appears obsessed with fossil fuels, choking off the nation’s green deal commitments and its “zero-carbon” high-tech ambitions.

Data released by the London-based financial analytics firm TransitionZero has shown that China could save US$1.6 trillion by phasing out coal plants with eco-friendly alternatives.

“There’s a huge economic incentive for China to get off coal. What we found is China could save $1.6 trillion by doing that,” Matthew Gray, the co-CEO of TransitionZero, told the CNBC network on Thursday.

Hours later, Xi called on the international community for “unprecedented action” at the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden.

“Faced with unprecedented challenges in global environmental governance, the international community needs to come up with unprecedented ambition and action,” he said via a video link from Beijing.

The facts:

  • China’s new coal power plant capacity in 2020 was more than three times the rest of the world’s output.
  • Including decommissions, China’s coal-fired fleet capacity jumped 29.8 gigawatts last year.
  • The rest of the world reported cuts of 17.2 gigawatts.
  • China now has 247 gigawatts of coal power plants under development.
  • That would supply enough energy for the whole of Germany, the Reuters news agency reported.
  • Beijing aims to cut its dependence on coal to below 56% of energy consumption this year, the National Energy Administration outlined this week.

Green is the new gold: “We should protect nature and preserve the environment like we protect our eyes. Green mountains are gold mountains, the truth is as simple as that,” Xi said in his address as reported by the official Xinhua News Agency.

Actions not words: Data compiled last year by the Global Energy Monitor and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air revealed that China’s reliance on coal is undermining goals to cut emissions.

Toppling king coal: “The runaway expansion of coal-fired power is driven by electricity companies’ and local governments’ interest in maximizing investment spending, more than a real need for new capacity,” Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said.

China Factor comment: Coal is the elixir that fuels China’s massive industrial complex and household electricity use. Between 1990 to 2019, the country’s coal consumption nearly quadrupled from 527 metric tons of oil equivalent to 1,951 metric tons. The latest numbers showed that the fossil fuel made up nearly 58% of China’s energy needs, according to ChinaPower statistics. For Beijing, it still appears economic growth and energy costs are more important than going green.