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China is the world’s largest emitter of harmful greenhouse gasses. So the news that the country is currently building dozens of new coal-fired power plants is a cause for concern. However, the massive addition of new power plants does not necessarily mean a turn away from climate action and a rapid increase in Chinese emissions, analyses Nico Beckert.
More power plants naturally increase the risk that Beijing will miss its own climate targets. But a new study suggests that China’s specific situation will prevent the worst from happening. For example, many coal-fired power plants are already underutilized, and some projects serve primarily as employment programs for the ailing construction sector.
Infrastructure projects such as power plants are also characteristic of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the New Silk Road. China uses this mammoth project to fund projects all over the world – including in Europe. Most of these are stand-alone projects, but in 2019 Italy became the first and only G7 country to sign a cooperation deal with the BRI.
The new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, however, is not a fan of the infrastructure program. She plans to quit the partnership with China, reports Amelie Richter. The decision is expected later this year.
Coal boom is supposed to boost the economy
It is a construction boom that is unimaginable by Western standards. In 2022, China started building a new coal-fired power plant every week on average: The construction of 50 gigawatts of new power plant capacity has commenced. In total, the authorities approved coal-fired power plants with a capacity of 106 gigawatts last year, about 100 large coal plants. A fourfold increase compared to 2021, according to a new study by the Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and the Centres for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). In the same period, only 4.1 gigawatts of power plant capacity were decommissioned.
This construction boom sounds like a killing blow to China’s climate goals, and it also puts international efforts in jeopardy. China’s President Xi Jinping promised a decrease in coal consumption starting somewhere between 2026 and 2030. At first glance, this hardly seems possible given the massive expansion of power plant capacity. But the situation is not that simple. “The massive additions of new coal-fired capacity don’t necessarily mean that coal use or CO2 emissions from the power sector will increase in China,” the study’s authors write.
What does the construction boom mean for climate targets?
Some factors unique to China speak against a sharp increase in carbon emissions:
- Climate protection
- Coal power
- Climate protection
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