China starts building 33GW of coal power in 2021, most since 2016: Research

China also approved 74 million tonnes of replacement coal-based steel production capacity last year. PHOTO: AFP

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - China started building 33 gigawatts of new coal-fired power generation capacity last year, the most since 2016, research published on Thursday (Feb 24) showed, a sign the country is falling back on fossil fuels as economic worries mount.

The newly added capacity under construction was three times more than the rest of the world combined, said Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and US think tank Global Energy Monitor (GEM).

While new permits were suspended in 2021, they resumed in 2022, with five projects with a total capacity of 7.3GW approved for construction in the first six weeks of the year, the research showed.

China also approved 74 million tonnes of replacement coal-based steel production capacity last year, more than the whole of the rest of the world.

CREA and GEM said, "There is no space for this new capacity to be utilised under the goals of the Paris Agreement", adding it could leave China with an additional US$90 billion to $130 billion (S$121 billion to S$175 billion) in stranded assets.

There have been signs of China easing up on environmental pledges as it tries to shore up an economy hit by supply-chain disruption and "zero-Covid-19" restrictions.

"Along with the real estate slowdown, the pandemic and pandemic control measures and expected headwinds to exports are adding urgency to boosting the industrial and construction sectors, which are the most carbon-intensive part of the economy," said CREA lead analyst Lauri Myllyvirta.

President Xi Jinping last month said China's low-carbon goals should not come at the expense of energy and food security or the "normal life" of ordinary people.

Sun Shouliang, director of the general department at China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment, told a briefing on Wednesday that the country had to "prioritise stability" and should "not set goals too high".

China will start cutting coal consumption from 2026, and is likely to put an additional 150GW of coal-fired power into operation before then, researchers with the State Grid Corp of China have said.

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