China approved the equivalent of two new large coal plants each week last year even as the United States and other Western nations prioritized renewable energy.
As worldwide energy costs increase amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine and persistent supply chain bottlenecks, Chinese authorities approved 106 gigawatts of new coal power projects in 2022, more than quadrupling the 23 gigawatts approved in 2021, according to an analysis from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
“Coal power plant permitting, construction starts and new project announcements accelerated dramatically in China in 2022, with new permits reaching the highest level since 2015,” the clean energy organization said. “The coal power capacity starting construction in China was six times as large as that in all of the rest of the world combined.”
Developers in the United States have meanwhile transitioned away from coal: nearly one-quarter of the nation’s 201 gigawatts of coal power capacity is slated to be retired by 2029, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Companies have not reported any future plans to construct new coal facilities as of September 2022.
The decline in coal power comes amid the increased prevalence of natural gas and incentives from the Biden administration to prioritize growth in the renewable energy sector. Some $369 billion in climate initiatives and subsidies were approved in the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year to combat “the existential crisis of climate change.”
Other Western countries have likewise emphasized a transition toward renewable energy, a policy priority which has been tested by soaring power costs. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen admitted that low hydropower generation, which occurred as a result of low river capacity, is partially responsible for the heightened cost pressures across the continent, although she said the “effects of climate change” were to blame for the low water levels.
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Germany reverted last year to importing and burning coal as natural gas prices increased more than tenfold compared to normal levels, which followed Russia decreasing natural gas exports to the European Union. Other countries such as France and Spain have asked or mandated residents to reduce energy consumption; the United Kingdom greenlit expensive stimulus measures to assist citizens with soaring electricity bills.
China was nevertheless responsible for 26.1% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions as of 2018, according to data from the International Energy Agency, surpassing the 13.4% of worldwide emissions produced by the United States and the 7.6% of worldwide emissions produced by members of the European Union. Skeptics of governments which encourage the renewable energy transition have observed that higher emissions from China, as well as India and developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, are outpacing emissions declines in the West.
“Hundreds of brand-new coal power plants will make meeting China’s climate commitments more complicated and costly. The politically influential owners of the plants have an interest in protecting their assets and avoiding a rapid build-out of clean energy and a phase-out of coal,” the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air acknowledged. “The continued addition of new coal power capacity implies insufficient emphasis on overcoming the power system and power market constraints that perpetuate dependence on coal.”