Short-circuiting China’s green turn towards climate conference The People’s Republic of China is among the countries most reluctant to give up fossil energy sources. Frequent power outages in 2021 and 2022 have pushed Beijing to rely on coal-fired power plants, contradicting Xi Jinping’s promises to reduce fossil fuel emissions

Summers have been hotter than usual in China for the past few years: Droughts, dry rivers and record heat waves of over 40°C have made the Asian country among the countries most affected by climate change. Therefore, the Chinese leadership is increasingly motivated to face a groundbreaking challenge: The People’s Republic, which is among the main emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, has committed to achieving the highest CO2 emissions by 2030, and then the highest CO2 emissions by 2060. carbon neutrality. It is a path that can only be achieved thanks to renewable energy. Domestic challenges such as a slowing economy, rising youth unemployment and a crisis-ridden real estate sector call Xi Jinping’s goals into question. But the Chinese President is not giving up on one of the wars he wants to fight against and with his geopolitical rival, the United States, the world’s primary responsible for planet-warming emissions.

The world’s leading polluters against climate change

It is now known that the two superpowers disagree on almost every issue, but something changed after the summit between Xi and Biden during the Pacific Economic Cooperation Area (Apec) summit held in San Francisco last November 16. After the thaw again, at least a temporary agreement was reached in talks of mutual interest on combating climate change.

Meeting between Xi and Biden a (minor) success

The two leaders confirmed their commitment to cooperating on climate change, although the American president called on Beijing to do more. This demand is incompatible with the positions of the Chinese government, which calls for “common but differentiated responsibilities” between developed and developing countries in the fight against climate change, with industrialized economies making greater efforts. According to President Xi, it is necessary to address the concerns of developing countries, of which China is the leader in terms of financing, technology and capacity building, to respond to the problem of climate change.

A few hours before the summit between Xi and Biden, a step forward was taken; The United States and China signed a joint declaration in which they pledged to work together to address “one of the greatest challenges of our time,” intensifying cooperation and support on methane. Global efforts to triple renewable energy by 2030. In a lengthy joint statement published by Beijing state media and issued by the US State Department, the two governments announced the establishment of a working group on combating methane carbon emissions and deforestation. The document is silent on the future of coal use and fossil energy, but in any case, it is a positive signal considering the upcoming COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

From 30 November to 12 December in Dubai, 197 countries around the world are coming together to draft “drastic action to combat climate change” and respond to the call launched by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The danger, as the UN chief fears, is that the planet will be on a catastrophic warming path of 2.5 to 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2100, as global warming will reach 3 degrees Celsius based on current policies and efforts to reduce emissions. . But alarms are falling on deaf ears if we continue to pump record levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with a 1.2 percent increase in emissions from 2021 to 2022, as the UN monitoring team claims: this increase is largely driven by the use of fossil fuels and industrial fuels. processes.

All China dilemma

Progress made by the 2015 Paris Agreement at the Dubai summit (where the United States will be represented by presidential climate envoy and former Secretary of State John Kerry, not President Biden, during negotiations and daily working sessions) needs to be limited. Global warming will drop to 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. Expectations are already low, as many countries have not yet begun the path of phasing out coal, oil and gas to guarantee national energy security and supply.

This is the dilemma faced by China, one of the countries most reluctant to give up fossil fuels. Frequent power outages in 2021 and 2022 have pushed Beijing to rely on coal-fired power plants, violating Chinese leader Xi’s promises to reduce fossil fuel emissions. The Chinese government made a temporary U-turn by ordering mines to produce as much coal as possible. Continuing the 2022 trend, China approved various permits to open new coal-fired power plants this year and even restarted long-idle power plants, despite the country’s 2030 deadline approaching.

According to a new report published by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (Crea) and the Global Energy Monitor (Gem), in the first half of 2023, China allowed 52 gigawatts of coal-based electricity, while allowing another 41 gigawatts. new projects have already been announced. But it also restarted suspended projects for the first time, restoring previously shelved coal capacity to 8 gigawatts in the first half of the year. In total, there are 243 gigawatts of coal power plants licensed and under construction in China. However, if the power plants announced this year are included, the projects in the preparation phase can reach 392 gigawatts in 306 coal-fired thermal power plants. The report states that coal power plant capacity could increase by 23 to 33 percent compared to 2022 levels, indicating a large increase in coal power plant production and therefore climate-changing emissions.

Therefore, the document shows contradictions between the Chinese government’s announcements and measures; This certainly calls into question the description of coal power as a source of “support” for large wind and solar parks to cope with peaks in electricity demand that are not covered by the new regulation. production from renewable resources. In fact, the report’s analysts emphasize that none of the official reasons given by China for the construction of new coal projects are true: “Most new projects are located in locations where new coal power capacity is not needed to support grid stability and the integration of variable renewable energy.” Although clean energy plants are expanding rapidly, China will not be able to reduce coal-fired power capacity before 2030 unless it continues with cancellations of already approved projects or massive early closures of existing plants.

Race for renewable energy

China’s changing pace of transition to coal does not represent a point of no return for many analysts. Because while it is true that the Beijing government has started new coal projects, the speed at which it uses the power of large wind and solar power plants will lead to coal playing a supporting role in China’s future energy mix.

On paper, the People’s Republic continues to achieve a number of successes. The electricity production capacity of non-fossil resources has exceeded that of fossil resources. Record growth in the installation of new low-carbon energy sources will reduce China’s CO2 emissions in 2024.

According to data compiled by Crea, approximately 78 gigawatts of solar energy and 23 gigawatts of wind energy, as well as 1.2 gigawatts of nuclear energy and 5 gigawatts of hydroelectric energy, were added to the Chinese grid in the first half of 2023. Solar panel and wind turbine installations increased by 150 percent and 80 percent, respectively. For comparison: Solar installations completed in just six months are equivalent to the total installed solar capacity in Germany.

But there is an explanation behind the boom in renewable energy. Part of the increase in solar installations is due to a glut of projects stalled during the zero-Covid policy period, casting a shadow over China’s industry and economy. Given the increase in green energy park installations, many analysts are optimistic about China’s goal of reaching peak greenhouse gas emissions before 2030.

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However, there are also those who carefully monitor the movements of the Chinese government. Gao Yuhe, Beijing-based Greenpeace East Asia project manager, says that to understand whether China’s energy sector can peak soon, it is necessary to see whether China can meet its growing demand for renewable energy. According to the analyst, the People’s Republic needs to target at least 2,400 gigawatts of wind and solar power by 2030 to triple its renewable energy capacity. “China needs to not only accelerate its renewable energy capacity, but more importantly increase its consumption and production of renewable energy in the power sector,” Gao said. said.

What the analyst was alluding to was the inefficiency of green energy infrastructure in the Asian country. Gao argued that most of China’s renewable resources are produced in the west of the country, while most of the energy consumption occurs in the east, and said, “Energy storage is the key to China’s energy transition.”

The situation remains complex. Despite the rapid growth of renewable energy sources, the People’s Republic of China continues to build new power plants powered by coal, the world’s most polluting energy source. Asked to review its plans, China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua called phasing out fossil fuels “unrealistic”. The Asian giant’s energy transition will not be rapid and the rest of the world will have to pay the heavy price.

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Source: Today IT