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.


Ethiopia says suspects confessed to killing popular singer

Updated 10 July 2020

Ethiopia says suspects confessed to killing popular singer

  • Hachala Hundessa became a symbol of the Oromo struggle during years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018
  • Though Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo head of state, Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s attorney general said Friday that two men had confessed to killing a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group as part of a plot to topple Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.
Hachala Hundessa became a symbol of the Oromo struggle during years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018.
His shooting death last week sparked days of protests and ethnic violence that killed 239 people, according to police figures.
“The assassination was intended to be a cover to take power from the incumbent by force,” attorney general Abebech Abbebe said in a statement Friday aired on state television, without providing details.
Though Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo head of state, Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office, a complaint echoed by many protesters last week.
Abebech said that along with the two men who have allegedly confessed to the crime, the government has identified a third suspect who remains on the run.
One of the men in custody identified the masterminds of the alleged plot as members of a rebel group the government believes is affiliated with the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) political party, Abebech said.
The OLF, a former rebel movement, returned to Ethiopia from exile after Abiy took office and has repeatedly disavowed any links to armed insurgents.
The Internet remained shut off Friday for an 11th consecutive day, though Addis Ababa remains calm and Abiy’s office issued a statement saying the surrounding Oromia region had “returned to calm and citizens have resumed normal activities.”
In her statement, however, Abebech said unnamed agitators were calling for additional protests and road blockages in the coming days.
“There are those that have hidden themselves in nice places but are calling on Ethiopian youth to fight each other, close roads and to cease working as part of a rebellion call,” Abebech said.
“Above all we call on our people to disobey this rebellion call and to thwart it.”