China returns to ‘old habit of coal’, report says
This week, Bloomberg’s newsletter analysed how and why China has fallen back to fossil fuels, particularly coal, in its recent energy policy. The analysis – written by Bloomberg’s climate reporter Karoline Kan – said that Chinese leaders are “doubling down on fossil fuels” out of “growing” fears of global energy shortages and “rising concerns” of a Covid-sparked economic slump. It read: “Faced with turmoil, China is returning to its old habit of coal, no matter what damage it does to climate momentum.” (Read the web version
of the newsletter.)
HOW: According to Bloomberg, China has pushed for coal in two ways in recent months. One was a narrative “shift” that stressed coal’s importance in “ensuring continued growth”, the outlet said. The other was new approvals of coal mines and coal-fired power projects “even as such efforts are shunned in most other parts of the world”, it noted.
Bloomberg’s analysis came hot on the heels of China’s “two sessions”, a series of key political meetings that took place in Beijing last week. At the conferences, the government included the term “shuang tan” – meaning “dual carbon” in a nod to China’s carbon-peaking and carbon neutrality goals – in its annual work report for the first time, signifying nationwide efforts towards the objectives, according to the state broadcaster CCTV
. However, the leadership also repeatedly underscored the importance of ensuring energy security and stable coal production and supply. (Last week’s China Briefing
analysed the messages coming out of the “two sessions”.)
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the state economic planner, stressed energy security again in China’s economic and social development plan
for 2022, which was approved
at the “two sessions”. According to the plan, energy security is the “precondition” of stable “low-carbon” development and the “support” for hitting the five-year energy intensity target from 2021 to 2025. Liu Hongqiao – an independent consultant and former China specialist at Carbon Brief – analysed the economic plan in her newsletter last week. Liu wrote
that “energy security, framed as a ‘mounting’ economic risk and a national security issue, is given a level of priority on the government’s agenda higher than ever before”.
Prof Du Xiangwan – the deputy head of an energy advisory team to the Chinese government – interpreted China’s coal policy on the state broadcaster last Saturday. Prof Du said that China’s coal consumption would likely “still increase” in the 14th five-year plan (FYP) period from 2021 to 2025, even though there would be “strict” control. (Read Carbon Brief’s assessment
of China’s 14FYP.) This is because growth in non-fossil energy is not yet large enough to cover incremental increases in demand. Prof Du predicted that renewable energy would “start to” replace coal power in meeting non-incremental energy demand in the 15FYP period from 2026 to 2030, but “the replacement [volume] would not be great”. He added that renewable energy should be able to replace coal power “relatively safely and reliably from 2030” when the former would have developed rapidly for more than a decade. (More on Prof Du’s interview in the next development.)
SIGNIFICANCE: Speaking of China’s recent coal push, Qin Yan – carbon analyst at Refinitiv, a “provider of financial markets data and infrastructure” – told Bloomberg’s Karoline Kan that “one of the biggest challenges” for China to get to net-zero “is a mindset shift”. Qin said that “giving the power back to coal now only makes the shift…harder to complete”.
QUOTES: Byford Tsang
– senior policy advisor at E3G, a climate change thinktank – told Carbon Brief that, “strictly speaking”, China “is not walking back on its target” with its recent drive for coal. But Tsang pointed out that “any additional fossil fuel is going to be stranded asset because it is not going to run the full course of the lifetime if we are to meet the peaking and neutrality goals, or getting China’s emission trajectory in line with the 1.5C target under the Paris Agreement”. He noted that the coal boost “might not have a big impact” on China meeting its carbon-peaking target, but it will make its net-zero transition “more costly”. He added that “the local economy will rely more on fossil fuels and it is going to make it harder to move away”.
Global emissions ‘rebound largely driven’ by China, IEA says
The global CO2 emissions “rebound” past pre-pandemic levels has “largely been driven by China”, according to the IEA
. In a release from last Tuesday, covering emissions from energy, the agency reported a combined 750m-tonne increase in CO2 by China between 2019 and 2021. “In 2021, China’s CO2 emissions rose above 11.9bn tonnes, accounting for 33% of the global total”, it said, with a year-on-year increase of 4.8%. The IEA noted that China’s emissions hike was largely caused by “a sharp increase in electricity demand that leaned heavily on coal power”. It said the country’s electricity demand “grew by 10% in 2021”, with an almost 700-terawatt-hour (TWh) increase, “the largest ever experienced in China”. China has not released an official figure for its CO2 emissions in 2021. (Earlier this month, China Briefing reported on separate calculations
that found China’s CO2 emissions grew by 4.5% 2021.)
Separately, Prof Du Xiangwan – deputy director of China’s National Energy Advisory Committee of Experts – said that China’s CO2 emissions had risen by 350m tonnes in 2021. (The figure matches data
from the IEA, which put last year’s CO2 emissions growth for China as 353m tonnes.) Speaking on state broadcaster CCTV
last Saturday, Prof Du noted that from 2013 to 2020, China’s emissions had grown by 160m tonnes every year on average. This means last year’s growth more than doubled the annual increase of previous years. “Therefore, technically speaking, last year [we saw] a ‘carbon addition’, not ‘carbon reduction’,” Prof Du said in reference to a 2021 catchphrase mentioned by the show’s presenter. Prof Du did not give China’s total CO2 emissions last year or its year-on-year growth.
Prof Du put the cause of last year’s emissions bump as the “impulsive” development of energy-intensive industries by local governments to drive their regions’ economic growth – which Prof Du described as an “old mindset”. He noted that the central government had “repeatedly” ordered “suppression” of energy-intensive industries, but “some regions” still relied on them to drive their economic recovery. (Carbon Brief’s contributing China editor, Jianqiang Liu, has explained this “old mindset” in his in-depth analysis
of China’s shifting mentality towards climate change.)
Prof Du called for “serious attention” to last year’s emissions increase, adding that local governments had likely been “charging towards a high peak in a campaign style” in 2021. He confessed that he was “a little surprised” by how much the emissions had jumped. (Prof Du’s “campaign style” mention refers to a previous order from China’s President Xi Jinping, who instructed the nation to “rectify campaign-style ‘carbon reduction’”. Carbon Brief explained
the expression last year.)
China’s CO2 emissions saw a rapid increase in the first three months of last year before showing “signs of cooling” from April to June and starting to fall in the following three months, according to analyses written by CREA’s analyst Lauri Myllyvirta
for Carbon Brief. Myllyvirta said that China’s emissions had increased by 15% year-on-year in the first quarter
of 2021, “the fastest pace in more than a decade”. The country registered a 1% year-on-year increase in the second quarter
and a 0.5% year-on-year decrease in the third quarter
. Overall, China’s CO2 emissions “grew 4% in 2021”, Myllyvirta wrote on Twitter
last month, based on his calculations of China’s annual statistical communiqué. (He did further analysis
of the latest official statistics this week.)