China coal-fired power capacity on the rise

To cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions to meet global demand, China has promised an ‘energy revolution’ aimed at reducing its reliance on coal. (AFP)
Updated 21 November 2019

China coal-fired power capacity on the rise

  • 40 new coal mines approved in the first three quarters of 2019

SHANGHAI: China raised its coal-fired power capacity by 42.9 gigawatts (GW), or about 4.5 percent, in the 18 months to June, connecting new projects to the grid at a time when capacity in the rest of the world shrank, according to a study published on Wednesday.

China also has another 121.3 GW of coal-fired power plants under construction, US-based research network Global Energy Monitor said in its report, nearly enough to power the whole of France.

The increase followed a 2014-2016 “permitting surge” by local governments aiming to boost growth while formerly suspended projects have also been restarted, Global Energy Monitor said. In the rest of the world, coal-fired power capacity fell 8.1 GW over the same period.

To cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, China has promised an “energy revolution” aimed at dramatically reducing its reliance on coal. It cut coal’s share of the country’s total energy from 68 percent in 2012 to 59 percent last year, and researchers predict it will fall to 55.3 percent by 2020.

Absolute coal consumption, however, has continued to increase in line with a rise in overall Chinese energy demand.

Environmental groups have accused Beijing of relaxing its efforts on coal, pointing to remarks in October by Premier Li Keqiang, who urged China to make greater use of its coal “endowment” by building clean power plants.

China approved 40 new coal mines in the first three quarters of 2019, and it has continued to make use of “green” financing to support coal-related projects.

China’s total coal-fired power capacity stands at more than 1,000 GW. Global Energy Monitor said it needed to close more than 40 percent of that to meet greenhouse gas reductions.

It urged the government to strengthen policies discouraging coal plants, support low-carbon power and move toward clean energy, while an investor body warned of the risk of building new coal-fired plants.

“Over 40 percent of China’s existing coal fleet is already estimated to be loss making,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change.

Though costs are now as low as fossil fuels, some Chinese policymakers worry renewables like wind and solar are unreliable, and there are concerns that decarbonisation will hurt the country’s coal regions.

Some also believe that future energy shortages could hurt China’s attempts to address its slowing economy, said Yang Fuqiang, senior adviser with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a US environment group.

“Right now there is a big argument about whether China needs more coal-fired power or not,” he told Reuters. “They think the 14th five-year plan (2021-2025) will stimulate economic development and they are a little afraid there won’t be enough electricity to support the economy.”


Mexico objects to labor enforcement provision in North American trade deal

Updated 15 December 2019

Mexico objects to labor enforcement provision in North American trade deal

  • Mexico produced more stringent rules on labor rights aimed at reducing Mexico’s low-wage advantage
  • US House of Representatives proposes the designation of up to five US experts who would monitor compliance with local labor reform in Mexico

MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s deputy foreign minister, Jesus Seade, said on Saturday he sent a letter to the top US trade official expressing surprise and concern over a labor enforcement provision proposed by a US congressional committee in the new North American trade deal.
Top officials from Canada, Mexico and the United States on Tuesday signed a fresh overhaul of a quarter-century-old deal, aiming to improve enforcement of worker rights and hold down prices for biologic drugs by eliminating a patent provision.
How labor disputes are handled in the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal was one of the last sticking points in the negotiations between the three countries to overhaul the agreement.
Intense negotiations over the past week among US Democrats, the administration of Republican US President Donald Trump, and Mexico produced more stringent rules on labor rights aimed at reducing Mexico’s low-wage advantage.
However, an annex for the implementation of the treaty that was presented on Friday in the US House of Representatives proposes the designation of up to five US experts who would monitor compliance with local labor reform in Mexico.
“This provision, the result of political decisions by Congress and the Administration in the United States, was not, for obvious reasons, consulted with Mexico,” Seade wrote in the letter. “And, of course, we disagree.”
USMCA was signed more than a year ago to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but Democrats controlling the US House of Representatives insisted on major changes to labor and environmental enforcement before voting.
The letter, released on Saturday, is dated Friday and addressed to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Seade said he would travel to Washington on Sunday to raise the issues directly with Lighthizer and lawmakers.
“Unlike the rest of the provisions that are clearly within the internal scope of the United States, the provision referred to does have effects with respect to our country and therefore, should have been consulted,” Seade wrote.
Both Canada and the US House Ways and Means Committee said the deal included a mechanism for verification of compliance with union rights at the factory level in Mexico by independent labor experts.
Some Mexican business groups bemoaned a lack of clarity and conflicting information on how the rules would actually be enforced under the deal, the first text of which became public only on Wednesday.