China is building more than half of the world’s new coal power plants

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Reported by: New Scientist

Some 176 gigawatts of coal capacity was under construction in 2021, and more than half of that was being built in China

China was responsible for more than half of the new coal power station capacity being built around the world last year, showing how much the country is propping up one of the worst drivers of climate change.


Nearly 200 countries pledged a “phasing down” of coal at the COP26 climate summit last year. But figures from a report by the non-profit Global Energy Monitor show that is nowhere near being realised yet. Globally, the number of coal power stations is actually growing as new constructions more than offset the closure of old plants.

Construction of new coal-fired stations is occurring overwhelmingly in Asia, with China accounting for 52 per cent of the 176 gigawatts of coal capacity under construction in 20 countries last year. The global figure is barely changed from the 181 GW that was under construction in 2020, despite authoritative analyses showing that no more new coal projects can be built if climate goals are to be met.

“It’s a mixed story. Everywhere outside of China, plans for new coal-fired power plants have been scaled back dramatically,” says one of the report’s authors, Lauri Myllyvirta at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. “However, Chinese firms have continued to announce new coal-fired power stations and there is very clear government backing for that. That’s a worrying sign.”

There is no expectation that China will change course on coal this year, says Myllyvirta, though he says its promise last year to stop financing coal projects overseas has already seen 13 GW of plants cancelled. He expects a further 37 GW to be cancelled this year because of the move.

Outside of China, the report shows plans for new coal have been curtailed in emerging markets including Bangladesh, India and Vietnam due to a combination of policies and economics. Vietnam, along with Indonesia, is frequently cited as a candidate for a future deal modelled on one with South Africa last year, where rich countries provided finance for a shift away from coal.

record amount of coal was burned last year, triggering bumper profits for coal mining companies and prompting talk of a “coal comeback”. However, Myllyvirta says it is “delusional” to think this is a “new normal”, arguing the fuel only became temporarily attractive because gas became so expensive.

 

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