Coal is back in China

Domestic News

After several years of restricting new coal-burning power plants, China is building them again despite existing excess capacity.

a coal power plant in baotou inner mongolia letting off steam with the sun in the background
A coal-burning power plant in Baotou, Inner Mongolia. REUTERS/David Gray.

“After years of the government putting the brakes on the amount of coal plants newly proposed and permitted for construction,” China’s coal plant development is accelerating once again, according to a report from Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (or see Reuters summary).

In the first half of 2020, China built more than half of the world’s new coal-fired power plants, accounting for 90% of new planned capacity.

  • China currently has 249.6 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity under development, which is more than the existing capacity in the U.S. with 246.2 GW, and India with 229.0 GW.
  • The renewed interest in coal plan development is driven by financial incentives rather than an actual need for more coal-power-generating capacity.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that carbon dioxide emissions must drop 45% by 2030 to keep global warming below 1.5°C. If China’s efforts to accelerate coal plant development continue along the current course, the IPCC’s target may not be attainable by 2030, even if other countries make massive cuts to coal burning.