China’s coal habit is getting worse

Briefly: Local governments in China reportedly approved more coal power plants last year than any time in the past seven years. Clocking in at around two new plant approvals per week, that’s more than the rest of the world combined.

In 2021, President Xi Jinping said China would “strictly limit” coal and eventually phase it out to reach net zero by 2060. But this is proving difficult, due to:

  1. ⚡ Huge power outages in 2021
  2. 💣 Energy security concerns sparked by the Russo-Ukraine War, and
  3. 📈 China’s current focus on boosting post-pandemic economic growth

Yet in this context (as in many others), China’s immediate and domestic decisions can have long-term and global impacts: China’s energy sector makes up 90% of its total emissions, which in turn make up nearly a third of total global emissions.

Intrigue’s take: But things in China are rarely as clear as they seem. Sure, it’s gobbling up coal like Super Bowl fans hitting the chicken wings. And yet it’s also:

So this is probably less about Beijing hitting ctrl-z on its energy policy, and more about a) panicked local governments responding to recent energy fears, and b) China’s coal sector seizing its final opportunity to get new plants approved.

Still, the path to net zero runs through China. And that path now looks narrower.

Also worth noting:

  • Grid upgrades will be crucial to China’s energy transition: most of its energy resources are in the country’s west, yet most of its power consumption happens in its central and eastern provinces.
  • In 2022, China spent $546B in green investments, more than the EU ($180B) and US ($141B) combined.
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