China coal mine approvals surge despite climate pledges

Long-term cuts in coal consumption are a key part of China’s energy, environment and climate goals. (Shutterstock)
Updated 06 August 2019

China coal mine approvals surge despite climate pledges

  • China approves 141 million tons of new capacity in H1 government documents
  • China energy targets allow up to 300 GW of new coal power

BEIJING: Approvals for new coal mine construction in China have surged in 2019, government documents showed, with Beijing expecting consumption of the commodity to rise in the coming years even as it steps up its fight against smog and greenhouse gas emissions.

Long-term cuts in coal consumption are a key part of China’s energy, environment and climate goals, but the fivefold increase in new mine approvals in the first-half of 2019 suggests China’s targets still provide ample room for shorter-term growth. China’s energy regulator gave the go-ahead to build 141 million tons of new annual coal production capacity from January to June, compared to 25 million tons over the whole of last year, Reuters analysis of approval documents showed.

The projects included new mines in the regions of Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Shanxi and Shaanxi that are part of a national strategy to consolidate output at dedicated coal production “bases,” as well as expansions of existing collieries, the National Energy Administration (NEA) documents showed.

The NEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Beijing aims to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in its overall energy mix to 15% by the end of next year from around 14.3% currently, and to 20% by 2030. It cut the share of coal to 59% last year, down from 68.5% in 2012.

It has also promised to adopt the “highest possible ambition” when it reviews its climate change pledges next year, with one government think tank recommending China imposes a mandatory cap on coal consumption in its 2021-2025 five-year plan. But while smog-prone regions like Hebei and Beijing have already cut coal use and shut hundreds of small mines and power plants, China is still allowing for significant increases in coal production and coal-fired power generation.

That has piled pressure on utilities to use clean combustion technology. Lauri Myllyvirta, senior energy analyst with environmental group Greenpeace, said many of the newly approved projects would likely replace small or depleted old mines.

“However, it is alarming that China’s energy planning seems to be driving at roughly maintaining current levels of coal output for the coming decade or two, which is very hard to reconcile with the goal of the Paris agreement (on climate change),” he said. “Especially given that oil and gas consumption is still increasing, it’s imperative that coal use starts falling again after rebounding for the past three years.”

Chinese coal output rose 2.6% in the first-half of 2019 to 1.76 billion tons.

MORE TO COME?

Industry groups still expect coal-fired power capacity to increase over the next few years, with investments in nuclear and renewables still insufficient to cover rising energy demand. The research unit of the China State Grid Corporation last month forecast that total coal-fired capacity would peak at 1,230-1,350 gigawatts (GW), which would mean an increase of about 200-300 GW.

A study published earlier this year also suggested China’s targets would allow the construction of another 290 GW of coal-fired capacity in the coming years. China is convinced it can continue to raise coal production and consumption while significantly reducing emissions. It has made “ultra-low emissions” technology mandatory in all new coal power plants an is also improving mine zoning regulations to ensure pollution is minimized.

By the end of last year, 80% of total coal-fired power capacity had installed “ultra-low emissions” equipment, amounting to 810 GW, the government said. Michelle Manook, chief executive of the World Coal Association, an industry lobby group, told Reuters that coal remains a crucial element in the world’s transition to cleaner energy, and the focus should be on cutting emissions rather than banning coal entirely.

“It’s not about transitioning away from any one source of energy. it’s about transitioning to cleaner energy. And with investment, coal has a significant role,” she said.


‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

Updated 16 min 26 sec ago

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.

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