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China must shut 100 GW coal-fired power capacity to meet climate goals - research

by Reuters
Tuesday, 16 March 2021 15:00 GMT

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Water vapour rises from a cooling tower of a China Energy ultra-low emission coal-fired power plant during a media tour, in Sanhe, Hebei province, China July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Shivani Singh

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China should cut coal-fired power capacity to achieve its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2060 and immediately stop approving new plants, a study says

By David Stanway

SHANGHAI, March 16 (Reuters) - China should quickly decommission more than 100 gigawatts (GW) of inefficient coal-power capacity and phase out most of the remaining plants by 2045 in order to meet its climate targets, a new research report showed on Tuesday.

These capacity cuts will help the country achieve its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2060, but Beijing should also immediately stop approving new plants, according to a study by the Center for Global Sustainability (CGS) at the University of Maryland.

The study, published by Nature Communications, said 18% of China's total coal-fired fleet - amounting to 112 GW - constitutes "low-hanging fruit" that performs poorly on economic and environmental grounds, and could be shut without much disruption.

"To meet China's climate and development goals, remaining plants can operate at a minimum of 20 or 30 more years, but usage must gradually and responsibly be reduced by 2045 to limit (global) warming to 1.5 degrees," said Sha Yu, co-director of CGS's China Program.

Last year, the world's top energy consumer relied on coal for 56.8% of its total energy needs. The share has dropped from nearly 70% a decade ago, but overall consumption continues to rise.

China also plans more than 200 GW of new coal-fired capacity as it has to play a delicate balancing act to support its energy needs for growth.

China's 2021-2025 five-year plan pledged further cuts in the amount of CO2 per unit of growth and promised more support for alternative energy sources, but it would also continue promoting "the clean and efficient use of coal", and made no commitment to close existing plants.

The country could still make more ambitious pledges to decarbonise in its sectoral five-year plans, due to be published in the coming year, said Ryna Cui, lead author of the study.

"A total emissions cap, no new coal, a long-term coal phaseout and renewable energy are probably the most important items on the agenda that we hope to see specific and more ambitious targets," she said.

(Reporting by David Stanway, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)