UN, WEF praise China for ‘moving forward’ on 'green energy' while ignoring new coal plants

According to a report by the Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), China continues to approve coal permits, commission newly built plants, and revive long-dormant plants.

UN, WEF praise China for ‘moving forward’ on 'green energy' while ignoring new coal plants
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The United Nations (UN) is praising China for considering 'green energy' alternatives despite approving new coal plant permits as the world's top carbon emitter.

Themed "Green Transition for High-Quality Development: Modernization in Harmony with Nature," China met with over 500 foreign dignitaries and local officials last weekend to discuss building a 'clean' and 'beautiful world.' 

"This meeting took place at a time when centrifugal geopolitical forces appear to be pulling nations apart. Yet here in this room, we build bridges that brought us closer together," said Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Under the guidance of President Xi Jinping, Beijing pledged to support the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) and to solidify global environmental governance.

On August 30, Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang, who also serves as a council chairperson, said the CCICED will play a more prominent role in advancing modernization featuring "harmony between humanity and nature."

Andersen called China's cooperation in moving forward sustainably 'impressive' and hopes they heed the recommended pathways suggested by foreign powers. 

"I know of no other country with the self-confidence and the humility to do this. It says much about China's determination to move forward smartly, sustainably, and consider all possible options before deciding the best way forward," she said.

Despite the rhetorical hogwash, China has continued approving coal permits and commissioning newly built plants. 

According to a report by the Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), they've even brought long-dormant plants back online.

The country approved permits for 52 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power capacity from January through June of this year by approving two new plants per week.

China also doubled its commissioning of coal plants year-over-year, plugging 17.1GW into the grid in the first half of the year, according to the report.

During the same period, construction commenced on 37GW of new coal power capacity, with 41GW of new projects awaiting government approval. Meanwhile, China revived 8GW of previously shelved plants.

Regardless of the reality, World Economic Forum (WEF) president Borge Brende said the meeting "could not be more timely."

"I think that also captures the nexus between economic developments and sustainability," he said, praising the CCICED for playing an increasingly significant role in 'climate action' moving forward.

"China's leadership in the energy transition and renewables is staggering," said Brende, who claimed China has a significant role in making the pursuit of 'green energy' renewables more affordable.

"When we met ten years ago, we had to subsidize renewables. Today, solar is one-tenth of the price compared to 10 years ago. The wind is one-seventh of the price," he noted.

According to the joint report, most new coal projects are not required to support grid stability or the integration of solar and wind power — countering reasons Beijing has peddled to justify increased coal production that constitutes over half its power generation capacity.

Despite rampant power shortages in China last summer, most new projects are in provinces that faced little to no issues meeting demand peaks.

New coal activity accelerated most dramatically in the coastal provinces of Jiangsu, Shandong and Hebei and the inland regions of Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi and Gansu.

"As the world turns its back on new coal projects, China is making the path towards its energy transition and climate commitments more complicated and costly," said Flora Champenois, research analyst at GEM and co-author of the report.

Analysts say the excessive permitting of new coal plants reflects limited enforcement to reach peak carbon emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

China has 243GW of new coal power plants under construction or permitted since last summer, which could rise to 392GW at 306 coal-fired plants — a 23% to 33% increase from 2022 levels.

"The coal power spree is a last-minute push by China's coal industry to lock in capacity and emissions before China's [carbon dioxide] emissions are due to peak late this decade," said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at CREA and co-author of the report. 

However, the authors contend that many newly permitted coal projects fail to meet Beijing's permitting requirements and do not open the door to a 'green energy' transition.

"This is happening even as clean energy installations are rapidly expanding," she said, with China "on track" to deliver more solar, wind, nuclear and hydropower electricity production — perpetuating dependency on coal.

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