DATE: September 29, 2019
SNIP: [E]ven as China reiterated its commitment to reducing emissions last week in New York, earlier this month at least three large, new coal-fired power stations appeared to be either operating or under construction in Inner Mongolia in northern China.
On the outskirts of the Inner Mongolian city of Xilinhot, smoke could seen swirling from a number of power plants, while others appeared to be busily under construction.
China’s economy has been looking increasingly shaky after decades of unprecedented growth, driven by a global slowdown and trade competition with the United States. China’s quarterly economic growth slowed to 6.2% at the end of June, the lowest level in three decades.
“This has actually been the norm that we have observed over the past few years. Whenever there is downward pressure on an economic front, there is a tendency or desire from the industry and policymakers to unleash large-scale infrastructure projects,” Greenpeace senior global policy adviser Li Shuo said.
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, far outstripping rivals such as the United States, India and Australia. But amid rising concern around greenhouse gases and manmade climate change, China’s reliance on fossil fuels has come under increasing domestic and international scrutiny.
President Xi Jinping announced in 2017 that tackling pollution and greenhouse gas emissions would be one of his “three battles,” along with ending poverty and excess debt.
“I think on one hand, China has already become the largest manufacturer developer and investor when it comes to some of the most advanced renewable technologies,” Greenpeace’s Li said.
“But on the other hand… China is pumping money into coal, both at home but also overseas.”
According to Climate Action Tracker, China’s carbon emissions rose an estimated 2.3% in 2018, the second consecutive year of growth after emissions appeared to stall between 2014 and 2016.
Mengmeng Xilin isn’t the only coal power plant to have quietly restarted construction or gone into operation since the notice was sent in 2017.
Huaneng North Victory Thermal Power Plant is due to begin operating in October 2019, generating more than 1,000 megawatts of power. Similarly, Xilinhot’s Datang Power Plant is expected to finish construction in July, set to provide up to 1320 MW, despite also being on the list of power stations put on hold.
Satellite images from Google Earth show that, after a brief pause in 2017, the construction of all three suspended plants continued. The resumption work has raised questions about the status of dozens of other supposedly suspended heavily-polluting power stations across the country.
The quiet approvals of these coal power plants doesn’t just make life harder for the Inner Mongolian herders or local officials struggling to meet their pollution goals, it could completely undermine global efforts to stop climate change.
Analysis by climate change activist group CoalSwarm, released in 2018, found that if China finished construction on all the new planned coal power plants while still operating their older stations, it would make it very difficult for the international community to avoid rapid temperature increases.
Not only is China’s funding of coal power stations domestically a problem, but a 2019 report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that Chinese companies were helping or promising to finance at least one in four newly-constructed polluting plants globally.
The 2018 report from the Ministry of the Ecology and Environment said China would be developing the “green and efficient [What??!] development and utilization of coal.”