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.


Airlines halt China flights as coronavirus toll hits 132

Updated 29 January 2020

Airlines halt China flights as coronavirus toll hits 132

  • A growing number of governments have in recent days advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China
  • British Airways was the first major airline to announce a total suspension of flights to and from China

WUHAN, China: Foreign airlines began suspending flights to and from China on Wednesday as global fears mounted over a coronavirus epidemic that has killed 132 people and infected nearly 6,000.
The announcements came hours after countries began airlifts to evacuate foreigners trapped in Wuhan, the quarantined central Chinese city of 11 million people at the epicenter of the health emergency.
A growing number of governments, including the United States, Britain and Germany, have in recent days advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China over concerns about the viral outbreak.
China itself on Tuesday urged its citizens to delay trips abroad to avoid spreading the limit further global contagion, with at least 15 countries having confirmed cases of the disease.
The United Arab Emirates reported the first known case in the Middle East on Wednesday.
British Airways was the first major airline to announce a total suspension of flights to and from China, citing the travel advice of the foreign office.
“We apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” BA said in a statement on Wednesday.
Indonesia’s Lion Air Group, Southeast Asia’s biggest carrier by fleet size, then said it would halt services to and from China from Saturday “until further notice.”
In Myanmar, the three airlines that have routes into neighboring China also said those flights would also be suspended from Saturday.
Cathay Pacific also cut flights, citing low demand and the Hong Kong government’s response plan against the virus.
And in one of the most dramatic measures, the tiny Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea announced Wednesday that travelers from Asia would not be allowed in.
However, many other airlines said they were continuing their China services.
China has taken other extraordinary measures to try and stop the disease spreading, including bans on tour groups traveling overseas, suspending schools and extending the Lunar New Year holiday.
Authorities also last week imposed transport bans in and around Wuhan in an unprecedented quarantine effort, leaving more than 50 million people shuttered in their homes.
“This is the first day since the lockdown that I’ve had to go out,” a man in his 50s said on the mostly deserted streets of the industrial city on Wednesday.
“I have no choice because I need to buy food today.”
Thousands of foreigners have been among those trapped in Wuhan, which has become a near ghost-town with car travel banned and residents staying indoors.
Countries have scrambled for days to try and get their citizens out of Wuhan safely, but have faced huge logistical, medical and bureaucratic hurdles.
A US charter flight left Wuhan on Wednesday with about 200 Americans on board, including consulate staff.
Another 200 people were aboard a Japanese flight which landed in Tokyo on Wednesday morning.
Medical professionals were on the plane to carry out checks but officials said they had no legal basis to forcibly quarantine people who have not tested positive for the virus.
They would instead be asked to remain at home and avoid crowds until the results of the tests were known.
Other countries were planning more stringent quarantine measures, with Australia to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan and temporarily house them on an island normally used to detain asylum seekers.
France said it would keep its returnees in a holding facility in Paris for 14 days — the estimated incubation period for the virus.
Meanwhile, the virus continued to spread and kill in China.
The number of confirmed cases across the country climbed to 5,974, while the death toll nationwide jumped 26 to 132.
The scale of the deepening crisis was emphasized with the total number of infections on the Chinese mainland exceeding that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-03.
SARS, another respiratory coronavirus, went on to claim nearly 800 lives around the world, with most of those fatalities in mainland China and Hong Kong.
The virus is believed to have originated in a wild-animal market in Wuhan, where it jumped to humans before spreading across the country as the peak travel period for Lunar New Year festivities got under way.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday it would send urgently dispatch international experts to China “to guide global response efforts.”
Until Tuesday, all reported cases overseas had involved people who had been in or around Wuhan.
But Japan and Germany then reported the first confirmed human-to-human transmission of the illness outside China. Vietnam is investigating another case.
Germany now has four confirmed cases, all of them employees at a Bavarian firm recently visited by a Chinese colleague, health officials said.
The US asked China on Tuesday to step up its cooperation with international health authorities over the epidemic.
Washington had offered China assistance three times so far without success, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters.
The virus has rattled global markets and started to dent an already-slowing Chinese economy.
Japanese automaker Toyota said Wednesday it would keep its plants in China closed until at least February 9 in part due to government guidelines.
Apple was closely watching the outbreak in China, home to the firm’s third-biggest consumer market and much of its supply chain, chief executive Tim Cook said.
Global coffee chain Starbucks said it expected a significant earnings hit after closing more than half of its stores across China.