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China’s 5-Year Coal Plan: Build Back Blacker, Cheaper & Faster


China will invest more in coal to power its economy over the next five years, according to a government plan released Friday that only modestly increased renewable ambitions.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaks at the opening session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China 5 March 2021. REUTERS – CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS

Environmentalists had been hoping China’s five-year national development plan, unveiled at its annual parliamentary session, would give a roadmap for its goal of carbon neutrality by 2060. However the plan, announced by Premier Li Keqiang, had few details and signalled little urgency in cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

The lack of a cap on total energy consumption was one of the notable exclusions.

“Without the energy consumption control target, there’s even less in this five-year plan to constrain emissions growth than in the previous ones,” Lauri Myllyvirta, from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, told AFP.

“As a result, there’s no guarantee that emissions growth will slow down, let alone stop, by 2025.” Instead the plan aims to reduce the amount of carbon emitted per unit of GDP by 18 percent. However this is the same target as for the previous five years, and economic growth was set for six percent in 2021 — meaning a net increase in carbon emissions for this year.

The blueprint sets a target of generating just 20 percent of energy from non-fossil fuels by 2025, up from 15.9 percent in 2020. There were no specific targets for increasing wind, solar or hydro capacity, although there have been pledges to invest more in renewables.

China is the world’s biggest polluter, spewing out over a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming. As part of the plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, Beijing had previously pledged to reach peak carbon emissions before 2030.

Researchers say this needs coal-fired power to be cut almost immediately. However the economic blueprint does not ban the development of new coal power stations. Instead China’s cabinet last month issued a directive to “increase the share of large capacity coal power units”.

“The contradiction between targeting low-carbon development and continuing to invest in coal and fossil fuels still seems stark in China’s plans,” Myllyvirta said. The country’s strong post-pandemic recovery has been boosted by heavy infrastructure investment, and environmentalists are concerned this could stem the shift towards greener policies.

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