Coal fires economy but singes China’s green deal

Emissions from the dirty fossil fuel are projected to rise in the world’s second-largest economy this year

A coal-polluting pall hangs over China’s green vision. 

Amid a slowing economy, short-term growth targets are threatening to choke off long-term sustainability.

Last month, coal output jumped to the highest level since 2015 as Beijing tried to cap record prices and boost supply.

Already the world’s biggest producer and consumer of dirty energy, China churned out more than 357 million tonnes of coal compared to 334 million tonnes in September.

National Bureau of Statistics data also showed that during the first 10 months of the year, consumption of the fossil fuel surged to 3.3 billion tonnes, a 4% increase from 2020.

“Whether China can free itself from its decades-old addiction to coal will determine not just its own environmental future, but also – and more crucially – Earth’s prospects in the face of the gathering climate crisis,” Daniel K Gardner, the co-organizer of the China Environmental Group at Princeton University’s High Meadows Environmental Institute, wrote in a commentary for Project Syndicate earlier this year.

Coal comfort:

  • China and India watered down the COP26 climate pact released on Sunday.
  • They insisted that the language on coal consumption be changed from “phase out” to “phase down.”
  • The world’s second-largest economy generates 53% of the world’s coal-fired power, Gardner pointed out.
  • It is the world’s leading manufacturer of, and market for, solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles, he said.
  • Coal emissions in China could grow by 2.4% this year.
  • Overall emissions are projected to rise 4% in 2021.

Developing countries such as China are not on the same starting line as Western countries.

Pan Jiahua, the director of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

What was said: “China and India will have to explain themselves and what they did to the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world,” COP26 President Alok Sharma said at the weekend from the COP26 summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

Alternative view: “Developing countries such as China are not on the same starting line as Western countries, thus it is unfair to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to ask us to stop using coal altogether,” Pan Jiahua, the director of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the state-run Global Times.

What this means: Ramping up coal production will help boost industrial output. It will also shore up an economy reeling from power outages, a slowing manufacturing sector and a property market teetering on the brink of collapse after the Evergrande crisis.

Facts and figures: The National Bureau of Statistics reported that industrial output and retail sales increased in October despite supply shortages. Output grew 3.5% from the same period in 2020. Retail sales also edged higher by 4.9% year on year.

Weak growth: “Economic momentum remained weak in October, with the real estate downturn weighing on industry,” Louis Kuijs, the head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics, said in a note as reported by the Reuters news agency.

China Factor comment: A coal binge might give China a short-term economic high. But it will fail to clear the smoke billowing over President Xi Jinping’s green new deal.

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