China’s growing appetite for new coal-fired power plants has outstripped plant closures in the rest of the world since the start of last year, data shows.
Countries outside of China reduced their coal power capacity by 8GW in the 18 months to June because old plants were retired faster than new plants were built. But over the same period China increased its by 42.9GW despite a global move towards cleaner energy sources and a pledge to limit the use of coal power.
Christine Shearer, an analyst at the NGO Global Energy Monitor, said: “China’s proposed coal expansion is so far out of alignment with the Paris agreement that it would put the necessary reductions in coal power out of reach, even if every other country were to completely eliminate its coal fleet.”
More than 30 countries plan to phase out coal-fired power to help reduce carbon emissions and keep global temperatures from rising to catastrophic levels. The UK now has just five coal-fired power stations, with one in south Wales scheduled to close next year and two more to be converted to gas within the next two years.
Global Energy Monitor said the gulf between China and other countries was on track to widen as Beijing pursued plans to build more new plants than the rest of the world combined.
China is also helping to finance a quarter of all the new coal projects in the rest of the world, including in South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
China’s coal investments, including its own domestic projects, mean the country is backing more than half of all global coal power capacity under development.
China has pipeline of 147GW of coal plants that are either under construction or under suspension but are likely to be revived, the report found. This is more than all existing coal plants in the European Union combined and almost 50% higher than the 105GW of capacity planned in the rest of the world.
“Instead of expanding further, China needs to make significant reductions to its coal fleet over the coming decade,” Shearer said.
The report said China’s continued expansion of coal power was not inevitable, and urged Beijing to strengthen its existing policies to discourage the construction of new plants and incentivise low-carbon energy.
“The path that China’s central government chooses could make or break Paris climate goals,” the report said.
Jeanett Bergan, the head of responsible investment at Norway’s largest pension fund, KLP, said China should be able to break its addiction to coal by using clean alternatives.
“China has a strong advantage that it is a global leader in solar and wind power, and last year it sold more electric cars than the rest of the world combined. China can become the world’s foremost clean energy superpower,” she said.
China must align itself “with what is almost a worldwide consensus: all coal plants are toxic investments and ‘clean’ coal is a myth”, Bergan added.
KLP is one of many money managers to drop investments in coal in recent years. It said its $80bn (£62bn) assets were now entirely coal free and it was considering the fund’s total carbon footprint too.
“This has meant shedding around $6.5m in over 20 Chinese coal companies. But we still have $500m invested in China and our message is crystal clear: replace coal with clean energy,” Bergan said.