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Growth and security concerns threaten to undermine China’s green ambitions

Beijing has made commitments to expand renewable energy sources and boost provincial carbon trade. (File photo)

BEIJING: China has promised to devote its new “five-year plan” to tackling climate change, but concerns about economic growth and energy security are expected to ease the country’s green ambitions.

Deputy Prime Minister Han Cheng said in October that the 2021-2025 plan, slated to present to parliament in March, would be “dedicated to tackling climate change” and “focusing on the country’s new vision” to raise emissions to a peak before 2030 and achieve “carbon neutrality” by the year. 2060.

But experts said Beijing was still likely to give regions time to focus on growth and build new coal-fired power plants to avert power shortages.

“I think it is likely that policymakers will set less ambitious energy and coal consumption targets (in the five-year plan) due to concerns about energy security,” said Zhang Shui of the Draworld Energy Research Center, a think tank.

The ruling Communist Party’s political office said in November that the five-year plan should boost low-carbon energy and support efforts to quickly raise emissions to their peak in some regions.

Provincial plans also include commitments to expand renewables and boost carbon trade, while a policy document published on Monday also said China will modernize its energy sector by 2025.

New targets are also expected to increase renewable energy and reduce the amount of carbon produced per unit of GDP, along with a cap on total energy consumption.

China will likely set an energy ceiling in 2025 of 5.5 billion tons of coal equivalent, and set a goal to increase the share of renewables to 20%, said Lori Milliverta, lead analyst at the Helsinki-based Energy and Clean Air Research Center. From about 15% now.

But he cautioned that that would still allow carbon dioxide to increase 4% annually in the next five years.

“That’s less than about a 7% increase from 2015 to 2020, but it is still a slow start toward China’s carbon neutrality goal,” he said.

It is not clear if China will impose an absolute carbon cap, a move recommended by think tanks.

“It is very likely that China will actually reach the emissions limit before or by 2025, but it is difficult to determine whether this will be written into the text of the fourteenth five-year plan,” said Zhou Jie, president of China for the Energy Corporation. , Which is a non-governmental research group.

Say no to charcoal?

China began operating nearly 40 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity last year, three times the amount built elsewhere in the world, and now has 247 gigawatts under development.

The energy regulator was reprimanded in January for failing to control coal capacity, but with energy security as a priority, it is not certain that China will discourage new projects.

“There is likely to be a ‘control target’ for coal-fired power capacity, but this is likely to be so high that it will be seen as a target for how much to build,” said Millivirta.

Some government researchers say that an over-reliance on “intermittent” energy sources such as wind and solar power would expose China to shortages, and that more “base” coal plants are needed. Parts of China suffered blackouts in December.

“Unfortunately, the grid failure in central China has strengthened calls to build more coal power,” Meliferta said.

Zhou of the Energy Corporation said he expects the government to leave “some room when setting targets” to allow local governments to balance the various competing interests.

In 2019, the Energy Corporation advised Beijing to include a carbon cap for 2025 in the new plan, along with strict renewable energy targets.

He added, “I expect that the real goals will be more relaxed than what we have proposed.”

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