As China’s economy slows to the lowest level in a quarter century — around 6% growth, according to government statistics — policymakers are doubling down on support for coal and other heavy industries. At the same time, the country is reducing subsidies for renewable energy.
China is building or planning to complete new coal power plants with total capacity of 148 gigawatts, nearly equal to the entire coal-power capacity of the European Union within the next few years, according to an analysis by Global Energy Monitor.
After climbing sharply for two decades, China’s emissions stalled around 2013 and then declined slightly in 2015 and 2016, according to Global Carbon Budget, which tracks emissions worldwide. This dip came as Chinese leaders declared a “war on pollution” and suspended the construction of dozens of planned coal power plants, including some in Shanxi.
At the same time, the government required many existing coal operators to install new equipment to remove sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and other hazardous substances. About 80% of coal plants now have scrubbers.
As a result, the air quality in many Chinese cities, including Beijing, improved significantly between 2013 and 2017.
Permits for new coal plants proliferated after regulatory authority was briefly devolved from Beijing to provincial governments, which see construction projects and coal operations as boosts to local economies and tax bases, said Ted Nace, executive director of Global Energy Monitor.