China approved the equivalent of two coal plants per week in 2022, the most since 2015, a new report has found.
"China continues to be the glaring exception to the ongoing global decline in coal plant development," said Flora Champenois, research analyst at the Global Energy Monitor, one of the contributors to the study.
China's emissions are over twice that of the U.S., despite its promises to cut back, writes CNN. The uptick in the past year is largely attributed to the country's heatwave and drought, which was the worst it had been in close to 60 years. "The speed at which projects progressed through permitting to construction in 2022 was extraordinary, with many projects sprouting up, gaining permits, obtaining financing, and breaking ground apparently in a matter of months," commented Champenois.
While China has made strides to expand its renewable energy capabilities, the nation is still heavily reliant on coal. The report does find that "power generation from coal could peak and decline," as long as "growth in non-fossil power generation ... continues to accelerate, and electricity demand growth stabilizes or slows down." It adds that China currently "remains dependent on coal power capacity for meeting electricity peak loads and managing the variability of demand and clean power supply."
But the investment in coal is likely to make decarbonization a costlier and more complicated process. "The worst-case scenario is that the pressure to make use of the newly built coal power plants … leads to a moderation in China's clean energy build-out," the report notes, acknowledging that many of the new coal plants have "politically influential owners" looking for a return on investment.
The United Nations has found that if the average global temperature increases by 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world could see catastrophic ecological consequences. "To meet China's goal of peaking CO2 emissions, the most urgent milestone is to scale up investments in clean power generation to cover all of power demand growth, which means declining demand for power generation from coal," said Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst with the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, the report's other contributor.