In 2022, China approved the largest expansion of coal-fired power plants since 2015, according to a study published Monday, Feb. 27.
This is despite the country’s former pledge to begin phasing down their use of fossil fuel.
The report shows, that the Chinese authorities granted permits for 106 gigawatts of capacity across 82 locations last year. This is the highest number in seven years and four times higher than in 2021.
This is according to a new study by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), a Finland-based nongovernmental organization, and the Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a nonprofit that tracks fossil fuel infrastructure.
Six times as much as the rest of the world
The report also states, that the coal power plants that China began building in 2022, has the apacity of six times as much as that the rest of the world combined.
“China continues to be the exception to the ongoing global decline in coal plant development,” GEM research analyst Flora Champenois said.
China is one of the world’s biggest contributors of the greenhouse gases driving climate change, such as CO2.
In 2020, President Xi Jinping pledged that China will peak its CO2 emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
This move was greeted as a breakthrough by environmentalists who hoped Xi would play a more active role in limiting the global warming.
The report published Monday warns, that even if Beijing sticks to those commitments, the current coal power expansion will make meeting them more complicated and expensive.
China relies on coal for nearly 60 percent of its electricity
Most of the new coal projects have been approved in provinces hit by disabling electricity shortages due to record heatwaves during the last two year.
This creates a vicious cycle with increased greenhouse gas emissions accelerating climate change resulting in more frequent extreme weather events, researchers said.
The rush for approvals started after China’s cabinet in May announced 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) of investment in coal power generation.
“This is the same dynamic that we saw during the previous boom in 2015,” Lauri Myllyvirta, Lead Analyst at CREA, told AFP.
Increasing renewable growth
China has increased its investments in renewable power including solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in recent years.
“If the renewable growth continues, and electricity demands stabilizes, the additions of new coal-fired capacity don’t necessarily mean that CO2 emissions will increase,” the report says.
But according to the head of the China Photovoltaic Industry Association, renewable energy projects in China are struggling to get access to land.
“The biggest misconception is the idea that an increase in renewables will replace coal,” Li Shuo, an activist at Greenpeace China, told AFP.
“That is the case with the rest of the world, but China’s need for energy security has led to growth in wind, solar and coal all at the same time,” Li Shuo added.