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China says it won’t abandon climate goals by moving back to coal

China is unlikely to embark on major new developments of coal-fired power even as it boosts output of the fuel to ease electricity shortages, according to a front-page commentary in a key state-run newspaper.

The nation remains committed to achieving its goals of peaking greenhouse gas emissions before 2030, and hitting net zero by 2060, the Economic Daily said. A recent energy crisis is a reminder China should pursue the efforts to shift to lower-carbon energy sources in a “balanced and orderly manner,” according to the newspaper.

China’s decision not to upgrade its targets ahead of the United Nations COP26 talks reflect that caution, and has been met with disappointment at the Glasgow, Scotland summit. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged the world’s largest polluter to move faster, telling reporters that President Xi Jinping should strive to peak emissions in 2025.

“Some Westerners are worried that China will resume large-scale development of coal power, making it hard to achieve the goal of carbon peak and carbon neutralisation on time,” the Economic Daily commentary said. “Such concern is indeed unnecessary.”

China aims for non-fossil fuel sources to account for 80% of the energy mix by 2060, plans to begin reducing the use of coal from 2026 and expects to reach a “plateau” of oil consumption before the end of the decade.

The share of coal-fired power in the nation’s installed electricity generating capacity is already declining, according to the newspaper, to 49.1% last year from 65.7% in 2012. China has led the world in installations of solar, wind and hydropower.

Xi and Premier Li Keqiang have both recently stressed the need to balance economic growth and the security of domestic energy supplies with action to reduce emissions, though they insist that China’s existing climate targets will be met.

Authorities have recently loosened some regulations to allow older coal mines to be revived and to speed the pace of expansions at existing operations. China is also seeking to increase imports of foreign fuel, even as trade relations with countries like Australia and the US remain frayed.

The current coal supply shortfall, after China shuttered about 1 billion tons of mine capacity since 2016, shows the dangers of pushing too fast in the energy transition, and the risks of missing out on development opportunities, the newspaper’s op-ed said.

“We cannot ignore the complexity, long-term and arduous nature of the practical problems, and cannot hope to achieve the goal of carbon peak and carbon neutralisation in one go,” the editorial said.

© 2021 Bloomberg

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