China must cancel new coal plants to achieve climate goals: study

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China must end the construction of all new coal-fired power plants in order to meet long-term climate goals in the most economically feasible manner, according to a study co-authored by a government-backed research institute.

FILE PHOTO: Chimneys of coal-fired power plant are seen next to residential houses in the night in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China, January 28, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

China’s energy strategy over the next decade is under close scrutiny as it aims to bring climate warming carbon emissions to a peak by 2030 and fulfill a pledge made as part of the 2015 Paris agreement.

But with economic growth at its slowest pace in nearly 30 years, Beijing has continued to approve new coal-fired plants, raising fears the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gas is backtracking on its commitments.

Beijing is capable of phasing out coal to help meet a global target to keep temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, but only if it embarks on a “structured and sustainable” closure strategy to minimize the economic impact, according to the study by Chinese government researchers and the University of Maryland Center for Global Sustainability published on Monday.

The report, which evaluated more than 1,000 existing coal-fired power plants, said China must first end new construction and then rapidly close older and inefficient plants. As much as 112 gigawatts (GW) does not meet environmental standards and could be shut down immediately, it said.

China currently has over 1,000 GW of coal-fired power, accounting for about 60% of the country’s total installed generation capacity.

“Well-designed policies can help lower the cost of coal-power deep decarbonization,” said Jiang Kejun, research professor with the Chinese government-backed Energy Research Institute, one of the report’s authors.

China should also change the role of coal-fired power in its energy system. By reducing the total operating hours of each plant, China could make coal-fired power a “peak load” supplier during periods of high electricity consumption, rather than the main “baseload” power source.

Beijing promised last year to show the “highest possible ambition” when drawing up new climate pledges for the coming decade, but it has built 42.9 GW of new coal-fired power capacity since the start of 2018, with another 121 GW under construction.

According to a research institute run by the State Grid Corp, China will still need 1,250 GW to 1,400 GW of coal-fired power over the long term to guarantee stable electricity supplies.

Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Richard Pullin

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