China 'quietly' restarts coal projects amid global shutdown

1st April 2019

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Jayne Roughley

The number of coal-fired power plants under construction fell dramatically last year, although China “quietly restarted“ dozens of suspended projects amid the global shutdown.

That is according to research from the Sierra Club, which reveals a 20% drop in new coal plants last year, a 39% fall in new construction starts, and a 24% decline in pre-construction activity.

However, China was the “glaring exception“, with satellite imagery uncovering a fresh push for coal plant development in the country.

This comes after the China Electricity Council proposed a coal capacity cap of 1,300GW, which would allow for another 290GW to be added – more than the entire US fleet.

“As the Chinese government starts to design energy targets for the next decade, power generators are pushing for hundreds of additional coal-fired power plants,“ said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at Greenpeace, which co-produced the research.

“Another coal power construction spree would be near impossible to reconcile with emission reductions needed – China's energy targets have a greater bearing on global emissions than any other national policy decision.“

Despite development in China, the research shows there has been a 53% fall in completed coal plants over the past three years, and an 84% reduction in the number of new constructions starting.

The US accounted for over half of global retirements in 2018 – the country's second highest retirement level on record – even as the Trump administration attempted to prevent closure of ageing plants.

It is now the state-owned financial agencies in China, Japan, and South Korea that have emerged as the largest sources of funding for coal plants outside their borders.

European financial institutions have instead been transitioning away from coal, with the continent's four largest insurance companies all adopting divestment policies.

And QBE announced a coal exclusion policy on Saturday, making it the world's first non-European insurer to restrict coal underwriting.

“As the cost of clean, renewable energy solutions like wind and solar continue to outpace outdated fossil fuels, it's only a matter of time before coal is a thing of the past worldwide, Sierra Club environmental justice representative, Neha Mathew-Shah, said.

Image credit: iStock


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