Despite a record rise in coal power plants in China and across Asia’s emerging markets, global CO2 emissions may be starting to plateau owing to the rapid expansion of renewable energy, new research suggests.
China’s Coal Plants
In 2022, China approved the construction of 106 gigawatts’ worth of coal-fired power capacity, the equivalent of all the UK’s plants combined and the highest since 2015, a new study has found.
According to the report, compiled by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and the Global Energy Monitor (GEM), the surge in approvals followed last summer’s severe power shortages in the country amid a historic drought that compromised hydropower generation while boosting air conditioning usage. The heatwave drove China’s peak power demand up 230 gigawatts, more than 20% of its previous peak.
Despite the huge addition of coal power plants – more than six times the amount approved across the rest of the world – CO2 emissions in the country were largely offset by the strict pandemic measures and a nationwide decline in industrial activities and transport.
While China remains highly dependent on coal power, Beijing pledged to cut coal consumption in the 2026-30 period and reach a peak in planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions by the end of the current decade. And rapid progress in scaling up renewable energy – the fastest in the world – is expected to help the country achieve these targets.
In the past two years, China added more wind generation capacity than over the previous seven, and last year generated 46% more wind energy than all of Europe, the second-largest wind generation market. Solar also experiences a 27% surge in 2022, pushing China’s electricity share from renewable sources to a record 34.2%.
Global Emissions Are Expected to Plateau
Another report published on Thursday by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 0.9% in 2022, reaching a new all-time high despite a much slower growth rate than the previous year. Asia’s emerging markets led the rise in global emissions due to coal-fired power generation, which experienced a 4.2%-increase, the largest in the world.
According to the Agency, the rapid expansion of renewable energy worldwide limited the rebound in coal power emissions. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy price shocks, rising inflation, and major disruptions to traditional fuel trade flows all contributed to a greater deployment of clean energy technologies and helped prevent further emission growth.
In December, the IEA estimated that renewables are now on track to overtake coal and become the largest source of global electricity by 2025.
“Without clean energy, the growth in emissions would have been nearly three times as high,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol, warning however that the continued rise in emissions was “hindering efforts to meet the world’s climate targets” under the Paris Agreement. According to experts, an annual 7% reduction in emissions is needed for the next decade to meet the goal of halving emissions by 2030 and keep global temperature rise below 1.5C.
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