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    China to Reduce Coal Consumption Amid Economic Downturn

    Experts say the central government’s decision to cap coal power projects may prevent provincial authorities from fueling economic growth at the expense of the environment.

    China plans to cap coal-fired power projects at 1,100 gigawatts by the end of 2020 in a bid to prevent energy waste and promote cleaner power.

    In an announcement Thursday, the National Development and Reform Commission and five other government agencies said the country will eliminate substandard coal power projects and strictly control added power capacity from local coal burning. The decision is one of several steps Chinese authorities have taken in recent years to reduce coal’s contribution to the country’s energy mix to under 58% by 2020.

    The move, environmentalists say, will serve as an “alarm bell” to provincial authorities who’ve approved new coal power projects this year.

    From January to May, at least 48 gigawatts of coal power projects were planned, approved, or constructed — exceeding the total capacity of coal power projects put into operation in all of last year, according to a recent study published by environmental nonprofit Greenpeace. An additional 46 gigawatts of coal power projects remain under construction.

    Li Danqing, project manager of climate and energy at Greenpeace, said Thursday’s announcement suggests local authorities should cut demand on new coal power plants within their jurisdictions. According to Greenpeace’s study, most of this year’s approved coal power projects were funded by regional rather than central enterprises.

    “This (notice) is undoubtedly a wake-up call for provincial energy authorities to prevent them from rushing to approve coal-fired power projects for the purpose of economic recovery after the epidemic,” Li told Sixth Tone.

    Local governments across China greenlit many coal power projects between 2014 and 2015 after the country granted them the authority to approve such projects, Li said. The reduction in financing costs after the pandemic, coupled with the government’s policies for economic recovery, have also led to greater investment in coal power projects.

    “If this trend can’t be controlled, it may affect the drafting of the 14th Five-Year Electricity Plan,” Li said, referring to the document outlining the country’s energy goals for the next half-decade. She believes this plan is “crucial to whether China’s energy system can turn into a clean, low-carbon system in the future.”

    In recent years, China has introduced a raft of measures — including switching from coal to cleaner energy and merging state-owned coal power producers — aimed at curbing air pollution and carbon emissions, as well as reducing the energy glut in some provinces.

    Despite having a strong foothold in China, coal power now contributes less to the country’s energy mix: Its proportional decrease from 67.9% in 2015 to 62.3% in 2019 is a signal that some progress has been made.

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: Coal-fired power plants in Altay Prefecture, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, June 20, 2019. People Visual)