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China’s Energy Dilemma: Balancing Growth with Climate Goals

China’s energy landscape presents a complex challenge in the context of global efforts to combat climate change. Despite significant strides in renewable energy, China remains the world’s largest consumer of coal and the biggest importer of crude oil. Moreover, it has actively pursued the “phase down” rather than “phase out” approach in climate and energy discussions, emphasizing the reduction, rather than elimination, of fossil fuel use.

China’s plans for new coal-fired power capacity are substantial, accounting for a significant portion of global planned capacity. Recent data indicates that China is in the process of building or planning to build around 366 gigawatts (GW) of new coal generation capacity, representing approximately 68% of the global total as of 2022. This development has raised concerns among environmental groups and climate advocates.

Furthermore, China’s approval of over 50 GW of new coal power in the first half of 2023 alone surpasses its total for the entirety of 2021. This surge is attributed to the country’s reliance on coal to avert potential blackouts as the economy reopened following Covid-19 lockdowns.

Notably, this increased dependence on coal comes as China faces challenges in its hydropower sector due to insufficient rainfall and drought, which has led to a decline in power output from this source.

Overall, China’s energy decisions will play a crucial role in shaping global efforts to address climate change, and finding a balance between economic stability and environmental sustainability remains a central challenge for the nation.

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