The Paris agreement’s nosedive has been expedited by the growing skepticism about man-made global warming.
However, the most significant threat to the agreement has come from countries that refuse to quench their addiction to coal. Among them is the largest consumer of coal: China.
China’s continued defiance of the anti-coal establishment has dealt a lethal blow to the future prospects of the Paris agreement. Here are some key indicators from China which suggest that the chance of a comeback for the Paris agreement is slim to none.
China’s Significance to the Paris Agreement
The Paris agreement is the United Nations’ flagship climate agreement that originally came into effect in 2015. Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the agreement served as the first blow to the agreement.
Since then, the agreement’s success has depended purely on the coal heavyweights in Asia: China and India. China, especially, has shown no restraint whatsoever on its intentions to increase coal consumption.
Despite pledging allegiance to the Paris climate agreement and promising to cut down carbon dioxide emissions, China’s love affair with coal continues to blossom. The country accounts for 46 percent of global coal production and 51 percent of global coal demand. It is the highest emitter of carbon dioxide, almost twice as much as the second largest emitter, the United States.
China’s coal aspirations can further be quantified and verified by four key factors: (1) its directives on coal production; (2) the state of operational and future coal-fired power plants, and (3) the ongoing developmental projects that aim to increase the coal infrastructure.
Coal Production and Use
While pro-alarmist media keep suggesting that coal production will decline in coming years, there are no signs of slowdown.
Coal production in China reached a three-year high in 2018, at 3.55 billion tonnes (5.2 percent higher than 2017). It is estimated that China has approved at least $ 6.64 billion towards new coal mining projects in 2018 and increased its coal mining capacity by 194 million tonnes in 2018 alone.
In addition to these, the country has approved new coal mines with a capacity of 1.03 billion tonnes per year, which will go operational in the next few years.
China is ranked third for highest coal share in electricity generation, second for the total share of coal in primary energy supply, and second in imports of coal.
The country however, ranks number one for the total capacity of coal-fired plants. In addition to the existing plants, Beijing is aggressively building a large number of new coal plants.
China Electricity Council (CEC) has proposed to increase the country’s coal power capacity in the next decade by 290 GW on current levels, eventually resulting in a total capacity of 1300 Gigawatts by 2030. That translates to anywhere between 300 and 500 new coal power plants by 2030, or a new coal plant every 14 days.
Even if the country does try to reduce its consumption of coal, there are practical energy challenges that are difficult to meet without fossil fuels. Such was the case in 2017 when a ban on coal in the northern region of China left people without heating in winter. In 2018, the Chinese government reversed the coal ban in these regions, fearing a repeat of the winter struggle.
Aiding Global Coal Infrastructure
China has been caught promoting coal infrastructure in other developing countries and has now become the undisputed champion financier of coal infrastructure outside its national borders.
The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) estimates that China has promised an investment of around $36 billion for building coal plants in 23 countries.
The country’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI)—a global development strategy involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries—has been used as a proxy pathway for Beijing to invest in coal trade and technology at unprecedented levels.
China, in the coming decades, will never cease to use and promote coal and other fossil fuels. Being the largest producer, consumer, and promoter of coal, its stance on coal surely signals the slow death of the Paris agreement.
The situation of the Paris agreement has been made more difficult because of the open embrace of coal by India, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Poland, Indonesia, South Africa, and others. The list, along with China, includes the top three emitters of CO2 and the top three consumers of coal.
There is no way the Paris agreement will be coming to life again. Instead, we are witnessing new coal plants that are sprouting like mushrooms in China.
Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Bangalore, India.