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China, the world’s biggest polluter, at risk of missing climate targets, new report finds

China, the world’s top carbon polluter, is at risk of falling short on its climate targets after approving dozens of new coal plants, according to research published Thursday.

In an effort to bring planet-heating pollution to a peak by 2030, China has vowed to “strictly control” new coal-fired generation capacity, and has also connected record numbers of new wind and solar plants to its grid.

But after a wave of electricity shortages in 2021, it also embarked on a coal power permitting boom that could slow its energy transition, according to analysis by US think tank Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

In just two years, the country has approved 218 GW of new coal power, enough to supply electricity to the whole of Brazil.

China approved 114 gigawatts (GW) of coal power capacity in 2023, up 10% from a year earlier. Construction started on 70 GW of new coal plants last year, up from 54 GW a year earlier, with another 47 GW going into operation, up from 28 GW in 2022, the analysis found.

“Drastic action” is now required to meet 2025 carbon and energy intensity goals, and China could also struggle to meet a target to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in its total energy mix to 20% by 2025, the report said.

China’s total power capacity is already sufficient to meet demand, but its inefficient grid is unable to deliver electricity where it is needed, especially across provincial borders, encouraging more plant construction.

CREA has previously forecast that China’s carbon emissions will fall this year, with utilization rates at coal plants likely to drop significantly as more clean energy is connected to the grid.

“This risks significant financial problems for coal power plant operators and potential pushback against the energy transition,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, CREA’s chief analyst.

“This contradiction will have to be resolved in order for China to realize the emission reductions needed to get on track to carbon neutrality.”

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