Despite commitments to become a net-zero emission economy by 2060, China—the world’s biggest carbon emitter—commissioned more coal-fired capacity last year than the rest of the world retired, a new report showed this week.
China’s coal boom in 2020 more than offset the retirements in coal capacity in the rest of the world, leading to the first increase in global coal capacity development since 2015, a report led by Global Energy Monitor (GEM) found.
China commissioned 38.4 gigawatts (GW) of new coal plants in 2020, offsetting the record-tying 37.8 GW of coal capacity retired last year, the report showed.
China’s coal boom accounted for 76 percent of the global 50.3 GW new coal capacity. Globally, commissioning of new plants plunged by 34 percent annually in 2020 due to difficulties obtaining financing and delays due to the pandemic. India, which continues to rely on coal, saw coal power capacity increase by just 0.7 GW in 2020, with 2.0 GW commissioned and 1.3 GW retired, according to the report.
China also has 88.1 GW of coal power under construction. Another 158.7 GW is proposed for construction. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is retreating from coal capacity and is announcing coal retirements.
Last year, the retirements were led by the U.S. with 11.3 GW and the EU with 10.1 GW of retired coal capacity.
“President Trump’s promised coal boom was a bust as U.S. coal plant retirements during Trump’s four-year term rose to 52.4 GW, exceeding the 48.9 GW retired during President Obama’s second term,” Global Energy Monitor said.
Commenting on China’s coal boom, Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), said: “Dozens of new coal power projects, equal to the total coal power capacity of Germany and Poland combined, were announced last year in China.”
“Cancelling them would put the country on track to the low-carbon development the leadership says it wants to pursue,” Myllyvirta noted.
China’s coal-fired power generation increased last year as growing electricity demand outpaced the installations of new clean power capacity, making China the only G-20 country with rising coal generation, climate and energy think tank Ember said in a separate report last month.