Some 176 gigawatts of coal capacity were under construction in 2021, and more than half of that was being built in China.
26 April 2022
China was responsible for more than half of the capacity of new coal-fired power plants built around the world last year, showing how much the country is propping up one of the worst drivers of climate change.
Nearly 200 countries promised a “phase-down” of coal at the COP26 climate summit last year. But figures from a report by Global Energy Monitor, a nonprofit organization, show that it is nowhere near the end yet. Globally, the number of coal-fired power plants is actually growing as new construction more than offsets the closure of old plants.
Construction of new coal-fired plants is overwhelmingly happening in Asia, with China accounting for 52 percent of the 176 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity under construction in 20 countries last year. The global figure is little changed from the 181 GW that were under construction in 2020, despite authoritative analyzes showing that no more new coal projects can be built if climate goals are to be met.
“It’s a mixed story. Everywhere outside of China, plans for new coal-fired power plants have been scaled back dramatically,” says one of the report’s authors, Lauri Myllyvirta of the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air. “However, Chinese companies have continued to announce new coal power plants and there is very clear government support for this. That is a worrying sign.”
There is no expectation that China will change course on coal this year, says Myllyvirta, although it says its promise last year to stop funding offshore coal projects has already seen 13GW of plants cancelled. He expects another 37 GW to be canceled this year due to the move.
Outside of China, the report shows that plans for new coal have been scaled back in emerging markets, including Bangladesh, India and Vietnam, due to a combination of politics and economics. Vietnam, along with Indonesia, is frequently cited as a candidate for a future deal modeled on one with South Africa last year, where rich countries provided financing to move away from coal.
A record amount of coal was burned last year, generating windfall profits for coal mining companies and sparking talk of a “coal comeback.” However, Myllyvirta says it’s “delusional” to think this is a “new normal”, arguing that fuel only became temporarily attractive because gasoline became so expensive.
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