GT Voice: Western concerns about China’s coal power growth unnecessary
Published: Aug 29, 2023 11:44 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

China's decision to build more new coal-fired power plants has raised questions in the West as to whether the country will meet its 2030 carbon pledge, but the concern is unnecessary as China's pursuit of carbon goals is on par with its focus on economic development.

China approved permits for 52 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power capacity in the first half of 2023, maintaining the previous pace of approving two plants per week, the South China Morning Post said, citing a report by the Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) on Tuesday. 

China also doubled its commissioning of coal plants year-on-year, plugging 17.1 GW into the grid in the first half of the year, according to the report.

While there is no denying that new coal power plants will trigger concerns about the impact on China's carbon peak and neutrality targets, it is important to note that it is not conflicting with China's efforts in meeting its carbon targets. China takes its carbon peak and carbon neutrality targets seriously, with fruitful results accomplished in that direction. 

The development of the power sector is closely related to the national economy and people's livelihoods. Given China's economic development trajectory, its power demand will still be rising steadily for a long time to come. According to an industry report, China's electricity demand is expected to reach 9.5 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), about 2 trillion kWh more than in the 13th Five-Year Plan period. 

Even though China's installed solar and wind power capacity has grown rapidly in recent years, it is still hard for renewable energy to cover the increase in electricity consumption. Therefore, coal-fired power generation will continue to play a vital role in ensuring the power supply of the country.

The reason why Western public opinion appears to be worried about China's building of new coal-fired power plants is mainly because of the belief that decarbonization cannot coexist with economic development. 

But that's not the case in China. The West has no right to demand China give up the right to development, especially when China has the ability to pursue the combination of carbon emissions reductions and economic growth.

For a developing country like China, the accomplishment of the carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals must be based on national conditions and cannot be divorced from the fundamentals of economic development. 

Whether it is environmental protection or coal-fired power, all policies must be coordinated with the main target of promoting China's economic development, not being set in separated approaches. 

China's emissions reduction efforts are part of the big picture of the country's development. We have been striving to make the economy more integrated with green development to ensure sustainable development in the long run.

China has been promoting clean, low-carbon, safe, efficient development of its coal-fired power sector, with emissions from new coal power plants reduced sharply in terms of both pollutants and carbon emissions. So, building new coal power plants could be seen as part of the upgrading of coal power capacity.

Moreover, China's overall energy mix is also moving in a greener direction, with the total installed capacity of renewable energy such as solar and wind power on the rise. For instance, Europe has lost its position as the world's largest offshore wind market to China, the Financial Times reported on Monday. 

In 2022, China accounted for almost 49 percent of global offshore wind capacity, while Europe made up about 47 percent.

In China, the installed capacity of renewable energy accounted for 47.3 percent of the annual total installed capacity for power generation in 2022, exceeding new coal power capacity for the first time.

All these facts suggest that while pursuing economic growth, China hasn't been and will not be derailed from the path of carbon emissions reduction.