China doubles down on coal plants abroad despite carbon pledge at home

By Paul Homewood


China shows its true colours:


China will press ahead with its multi-billion-dollar financing of coal plants in developing countries, a top climate official said Tuesday, despite Beijing’s stated aim of slashing carbon emissions.

In 2020, China opened three-quarters of the world’s newly funded coal plants, according to the UK-based monitor CarbonBrief, and accounted for more than 80 percent of newly announced coal power projects.

At home, however, President Xi Jinping has pledged to wean China off coal with a peak carbon emissions target of 2030 – and achieve carbon neutrality thirty years later.

Those ambitious targets have been met with international praise.

But China’s overseas drive shows the complexity of untwining the economic drivers of coal power from environmental concerns.

"We cannot simply say that we’ll stop supporting coal-fired electricity plants in developing countries," Li Gao, head of the climate change office at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, told reporters.

"Combating climate change is also about letting people in developing countries live good lives."

Echoing Xi’s comments at a recent climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden, Li said poorer nations still need coal to power their economies.

"This is wholly in response to (foreign countries’) actual needs, and we use very high standards (to build the plants)," he said.

Li also suggested that these countries were not sufficiently developed to be able to use renewable energy as their main sources of power.

China is the world’s biggest polluter and emits a third of greenhouse gases globally.

It has also continued to fund dozens of coal plants abroad, from Zimbabwe to Indonesia, and environmentalists say they are set to produce more emissions than major developed nations.

China is making the overseas coal play as part of its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to fund infrastructure projects and increase its influence overseas.

In contrast, officials have pledged to "strictly control" coal use domestically to reach ambitious climate goals.

Just under 60 percent of power in China still comes from coal, but a new five-year national development plan unveiled in March set a target of generating 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2025.

China will continue to build smaller-scale coal plants to ensure reliable power supply across the grid, but their "emissions will not be as large" as traditional coal plants, according to Li.

"We will no longer continue large-scale development of coal-fired power plants, this is very clear."



What this shows is that China does not believe in any “climate crisis”. And it has very little intention of significantly reducing emissions anytime soon.

Meanwhile China is also fast tracking its shale gas industry:



During the first two months of 2021, the Chinese oil and gas giant Sinopec managed to bring 28 new shale gas wells on stream in the country. The company also announced that the shale gas production from its major Fuling field jumped by 20% compared to last year. And despite the recent collapse in oil and gas prices, as well as the uncertainty brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, Sinopec remains optimistic on the future of shale gas. Its latest achievement was the completion of the first phase of a new shale field in Weirong, adding 1 billion cubic meters per day of shale capacity.  This series of breakthroughs reveal a more global trend: a possible revolution in the Chinese shale gas sector. But in a country traditionally relying on conventional gas resources, how realistic is this “shale boom”?

A “coal to shale gas” switch?

The share of natural gas in China’s total energy consumption reached a modest 8% in 2019. However, this figure is expected to climb as a result of China’s strategy to move away from coal, resulting in rising industrial and residential gas consumption. One of the drivers of the rise in gas production is likely to be shale gas, which represented 6% of total gas production in the country in 2019.

Inspired by the fracking boom of the 2000s in the United States, China is eager to reproduce a similar trend domestically. Its proven geological reserves amount to 31 trillion cubic meters and are the world’s largest shale gas reserves, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Being the second country in the world to achieve shale gas commercialization, China expects its shale gas production to grow in the coming years, and already plans a 34 billion cubic meters output in 2021. To do so, it will rely on its main asset: the Sichuan basin, where it has bet on doubling shale gas production through 2025.


April 27, 2021 at 01:27PM

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