China's Recovery May Boost Carbon Emissions

A record decline in greenhouse gas could be followed by a larger increase as the economy rebounds, energy experts warn.

China's Recovery May Boost Carbon Emissions

This year's record drop in carbon emissions due to the COVID-19 crisis has renewed questions about China's continued push for coal-fired power as the government pursues economic recovery.

Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that worldwide carbon emissions linked to global warming will plunge nearly 8 percent this year in the wake of the pandemic and production shutdowns.

Global energy demand will fall by 6 percent, a loss seven times greater than during the 2008 financial collapse, the IEA said in a 41-page report.

In the first quarter, China recorded the biggest cut with a slump in demand of over 7 percent following an eight-week lockdown to limit the spread of the disease.

"The absolute decline in global energy demand is without precedent, and relative declines of this order are without precedent for the last 70 years," the Paris-based agency said.

Among the stunning figures in the IEA's forecast, global oil demand could fall by 9 percent this year, rolling back consumption to levels of 2012.

Worldwide demand for electricity is expected to shrink by nearly 5 percent, driving coal demand down by 8 percent and cutting coal-fired power by over 10 percent.

The magnitude of the declines will draw attention to questions of not only when but how economies recover.

One of the wild cards in the forecast is what China will do to resume growth as the rest of the world struggles to restore demand in staggered time frames and recovery rates.

China's gross domestic product tumbled by a record 6.8 percent in the first quarter, according to official statistics.

The International Monetary Fund has forecast a partial improvement this year with 1.2-percent growth, rising sharply with expansion reaching 9.2-percent in 2021.

But if China's recovery relies on a big rebound in coal-fired power, the damage in terms of climate change could cancel out much of the emissions reduction expected this year.

"The recovery of coal demand for industry and electricity generation in China limits the global decline in coal demand," the IEA outlook said.

Global coal use could recede only half as much as forecast, "if China and other large consumers ... recover more quickly," the IEA said.

The report classifies China as "a coal-based economy." Despite gains in renewable sources and lower-carbon natural gas, the country still relies on coal for 57.7 percent of its primary energy, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Roughly two-thirds of China's electricity is generated from coal, raising the odds that when the economy bounces back, so will coal consumption and carbon emissions.

"As after previous crises ... the rebound in emissions may be larger than the decline, unless the wave of investment to restart the economy is dedicated to cleaner and more resilient energy infrastructure," the IEA warned.

A passenger airliner flies past steam and white smoke emitted by China Huaneng Group's coal-fired power plant in Beijing, Feb. 28, 2017. The power plant was closed in March 2017 as part of the the Chinese capital's conversion to clean energy. Credit: Associated Press
Gradual recovery

Recovery so far has been gradual, judging by China's recent data on power production.

Generation in the first half of April rose just 1.2 percent from a year earlier after consumption fell 6.5 percent in the first quarter, the China Electricity Council and state media said.

But the IEA also noted the close links between industrial output and electricity use in China, a factor that points toward future growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Industry accounted for over 60 percent of power consumption in China last year compared with 20 percent in the United States, it said.

A recovery for industry may inescapably drive a rebound of carbon emissions. But environmental advocates argue that the consequences will increasingly be a matter of choice as the cost of renewables comes down.

Environmental groups have argued for years that falling costs for solar and wind generation would undercut coal and eventually force investors to abandon coal-fired plants, turning them into "stranded assets."

According to a recent report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, an independent financial think tank, the tipping point of price competition has already passed.

The report estimated that 71 percent of China's coal-fired generating capacity will cost more to run than building and operating renewable projects.

Yet, China appears to be pressing ahead with new coal-fired projects, responding to industry arguments that the country could face a supply squeeze in the next two to three years.

In March, activists writing for the British-based website said that China already has 100 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired generation under construction, which would raise current coal capacity by nearly 10 percent.

Despite chronic underutilization and widespread operating losses, the industry has pressed for even greater capacity increases of 23 to 33 percent, the Carbon Brief group said.

The report estimated that "more than half of coal power firms (are) already loss-making ... with typical plants running at less than 50 percent of their capacity."

Affect on BRI projects

The cost comparisons and climate pressures also appear to be affecting plans to build coal-fired projects in countries cooperating with China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to promote exports and infrastructure abroad.

In February, Egypt's Ministry of Electricity decided to indefinitely postpone construction of the 6.6-GW Hamrawein coal power project, planned by a consortium including China's Shanghai Electric and Dongfang Electric. The plant is to be replaced by a renewable energy project instead, Daily News Egypt reported.

The Hamrawein station would have been the second-largest coal-fired power plant in the world, the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said.

Still, the IEA suggested that total reliance on renewables in countries around the world would pose its own risks.

"The rise of renewables has posed some problems for electricity security, however. In advanced economies, the main source of blackouts is the inability of the system to manage sudden changes in power flows and various network problems," the IEA said.

In China's case, utilization of coal-fired power and the resulting carbon emissions are likely to be determined by decisions on which source of power gets access to the electrical grid.

"If a more favorable dispatch for coal power plants is established, this could offer some relief for coal power producers," the IEA report said.

The relative costs and environmental consequences will raise more questions about why China continues to build so many new coal plants, despite economic setbacks that will only add to their losses now.

Philip Andrews-Speed, senior principal fellow at the University of Singapore's Energy Studies Institute, said the answer may also come down to economics.

"It is clear that construction has restarted on a number of suspended coal-fired plants and the government has relaxed restrictions in a number of provinces," Andrews-Speed said.

"Why are they building when there is such a massive surplus of power? I guess because it employs people and money is cheap," he said.

Andrews-Speed suggested that the government may also be planning to close a large number of more inefficient plants with 20 or more years of service, which is about half the retirement age for coal plants in the West.

Although the costs and environmental impact appear to be lesser considerations, Andrews-Speed noted that the government is pursuing renewable energy quotas and a national carbon trading system.

Decisions on which forms of energy will enjoy preferred access to the electrical grid may determine profitability.

"I guess that the dispatch decision will involve a delicate balance between the environmental objections on the one hand and local political priorities, notably employment and tax revenue," Andrews-Speed said.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Guards Drag Pro-Democracy Lawmakers From Hong Kong Legislature

The guards were acting at the behest of a pro-Beijing politician whose authority to order their removal has been questioned.

Guards Drag Pro-Democracy Lawmakers From Hong Kong Legislature

Pro-democracy lawmakers were dragged out of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) on Friday at the behest of a pro-Beijing lawmaker whose legal powers to have them removed were immediately questioned.

The standoff began after Starry Lee, a lawmaker for the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), physically occupied the chairperson's seat at a committee meeting setting the legislative timetable.

Shouting "Starry Lee, step down!" pro-democracy lawmakers charged the dais where Lee was sitting, prompting security guards to form a protective cordon around her.

Lee claimed that her status as a former chairperson of LegCo's house committee gave her the right to conduct its business.

Several pro-democracy lawmakers were carried out of the chamber by security guards and paramedics on Lee's say-so, while the remainder of the pro-democracy camp displayed banners and chanted slogans.

Dennis Kwok, the pro-democracy chair of the committee, said he should have chaired the meeting.

Kwok was last week slammed by Beijing for using LegCo's rules of procedure to delay the election of a new chairperson, stalling a bid by the government to table a national anthem bill outlawing insults or disrespect to the national anthem of the People's Republic of China, which has been repeatedly booed by Hong Kong soccer fans.

Kwok was publicly attacked by a newly assertive Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office under the ruling Chinese Communist Party's State Council, and warned last week that LegCo could soon become like China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC).

"The events of the past few weeks are very clear--the Central People’s Government is now exercising their so-called comprehensive jurisdiction over every aspect of Hong Kong domestic affairs," Kwok said.

"This was predicted a few years ago, but it is happening right now."

The HKMAO accused Kwok of violating his oath of allegiance as a lawmaker, which has been a precursor to the removal of several pro-democracy lawmakers in recent years, leaving the camp with insufficient votes to block key legislation in LegCo.

No right to preside

A LegCo legal adviser who earlier said that Lee had no power to call the committee meeting to order appeared to make a U-turn on Friday, opining instead that Lee should sort out the stalled legislative timetable because she was the last chairman before Kwok.

"With reference to the advice given to me by the legal adviser, I decided ... to convene two meetings of the House Committee," Lee told reporters on Friday.

"Kwok had no right to preside, as the afternoon House Committee was convened to discuss various legal opinions," she said.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Andrew Wan sought treatment in hospital after scuffles with security guards.

Kwok told journalists that Lee had effectively staged a coup in LegCo on Friday.

"What happened today was that the Hon. Starry Lee blatantly seized power, in collusion with the legal adviser and the security guards," he said. "I pointed out to her in no uncertain terms that she doesn't have the power to preside over this meeting."

Senior Hong Kong barristers have advised that Kwok's filibustering hadn't exceeded his authority nor broken any procedural rules.

LegCo president Andrew Leung has, however, agreed with the legal advisers consulted by Lee.

Standoff sparks protests

The standoff in LegCo brought dozens of protesters out onto streets and into shopping malls on Friday night, with a large crowd of black-clad protesters gathering alongside people in regular office clothes at Pacific Place, a glitzy mall not far from government headquarters in Admiralty.

Riot police were dispatched to the scene, and also turned out in force in Kowloon's Mong Kok district after protesters set up barricades near Soy Street and Sai Yeung Choi Street.

The crowd in Pacific Place repeated demands for fully democratic elections, a full inquiry into police violence, an amnesty for arrested protesters, and an end to the description of the protests as "riots."

But the HKMAO earlier this week weighed in with anti-terrorism rhetoric to describe the pro-democracy movement, calling it a "political virus" and a "dark, destructive force."

Plans by chief executive Carrie Lam to allow the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China sparked mass street protests beginning in June 2019, soon followed by widespread public anger at police use of force against peaceful demonstrators and demands for fully democratic elections.

Lam formally withdrew the hated amendments to the city's extradition laws, but stopped short of meeting protesters' other demands.

Frontline protesters, eyewitnesses, journalists, and human rights groups have repeatedly said that the majority of violence during the protests has originated with the Hong Kong police, who have been widely criticized for the excessive use of tear gas, water cannon, and pepper spray, as well as both non-lethal and live ammunition weapons, on unarmed protesters.

Medical personnel and rights groups have also slammed the handcuffing and arrests of voluntary medical staff, including nurses and doctors, during the siege of the Polytechnic University by riot police in November 2019.

Reported by Man Hoi-tsan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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