China Scraps Coal Power Plants And Boosts Renewable Energy Investment

Coal in storage within a thermoelectric coal-fired power station. Alessia Pierdomenico/Shutterstock

China, in its efforts to meet a government target for cutting down on its coal use, is to cancel the construction of between 85 and 100 planned coal power plants. This comes on the heels of a recent announcement that the nation will invest more than $360 billion over the next five years in renewable energy sources.

As reported by Reuters, the Chinese National Energy Administration declared that the power plants will not be constructed in order to reach a coal capacity cap of 1,100 gigawatts.

The agency predicts that renewable and clean energy sources – wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear – will generate half of all new electricity generation by 2020. This switch around in the energy sector will create around 13 million jobs.

This new announcement matches up to the new, climate-sensitive, future-facing China that has stepped forward as of late. The world’s most prolific producer of greenhouse gases, and suffering under the grim weight of its persistent smog problem, it seems like the one-party state has seen the writing on the wall.

No longer wanting to risk the onslaught of climate change-related deaths and economic damage – while keeping a close eye on the markets turning away from coal as an energy source – the government emphatically signed up to the Paris agreement at the end of 2015, before ratifying it last year. Coal usage has arguably peaked in the country, and some analysis suggests it is beginning to decline.

At the same time, it has embarked on a wind power plant building frenzy, erecting about two turbines per hour – double that of the US. China is also investing heavily in renewables not just at home, but abroad, such as the recent solar power park being constructed in the ruins of Chernobyl.

Although few would argue that its rapid switch to clean energy is a bad thing, the devil is in the details. One report suggests coal use will still increase even with a coal capacity cap, and so greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise into the future.

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In any case, with the rise of Trump – a climate change denying demagogue that stands to shrink America’s influence in the world – the Chinese government has clearly seen its chance to appear to be a benevolent and cooperative world leader. Climate change mitigation is merely one facet of this.

As pointed out by BBC News, the chief of the world’s largest communist political party is going to argue for globalization and free trade at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this week. This is in stark contrast to the incoming US president that wants to tear up current international trade deals and put into place protectionist, regressive economic measures.

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