Provincial governments in China are battling with the Communist Party to build more power plants powered by coal, even though the country pledged in 2016 to reduce carbon emissions by 18 percent by 2020. declaring a “war on pollution”.
Between 2014 and 2016, provincial authorities throughout the country issued permits for construction of brand new coal power plants, totalling more than 259 gigawatts of capacity. In a 2018 report from CoalSwarm, through aerial photography analysis the authors discovered that the country is investing highly in coal power — with more capacity in development than the entire US capacity. Due to a shift in who approves the new plants from the national to local governments, approvals of plants skyrocketed.
When the national government found out about what was happening it issued orders to stop construction, but the report suggests that the plants might still being built anyway. The government reportedly halted new projects in 13 regions involved up to 250 projects, according to information from Reuters. The amount of capacity being built is large and most likely more than the country needs, but that isn’t stopping it from resuming work on the plants.
The work happing in the country will hinder China’s ability to keep its commitments for the Paris Climate Agreement, though it reaffirmed its commitment to the agreement in July. Outranking all other major countries, China is the world’s biggest consumer of energy, largest producer and consumer of coal and imports the most petroleum, according to the Institute for Energy Research. Investing in energy boost’s the domestic economy and improves the lives of citizens there, but 66 percent of electricity was powered by coal in 2012, the Energy Information Administration reports. India — the world’s second largest country — uses coal for 80 percent of its energy, but wind and solar power are becoming less expensive than it.
One coal power plant is coming online each week and the country is facing an overcapacity issue, with some plants regularly working at only half their designed capacity. Restrictions on new plants were lessened earlier in the year and power plants are secretly restarting construction — making it doubtful whether the 2 degrees promise from the Paris agreement will be met, or the 1100-gigawatt cap from the 13th Five-Year Plan, lasting until 2020.
There’s a lot of talk about keeping temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius, but without the full support of all countries doing their part to help, everybody else will just have to pick up the slack.