China resists COP26 push to end coal as energy security prevails

China Source: iStock

China is likely to end up in opposition to efforts at COP26 climate talks to phase out coal worldwide and urge countries to beef up their emissions plans as soon as next year.

Energy security concerns will keep China from supporting the proposal on coal, according to a person familiar with China’s position who asked not to be named. While China plans to peak emissions by 2030, the country is now in the grips of an energy crisis and is ramping up coal output to record levels.

Beijing is also pushing back against a proposal at COP26 to urge governments to revise their official climate plans by the end of next year, a move aimed at curbing temperature increases as soon as possible. China’s view is that working out a new plan for emissions so soon after its latest submission just ahead of the talks in Glasgow will be too time-consuming for the world’s biggest emitter. The press office of China’s negotiating team didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The latest position shows that China hasn’t really budged from its objections even after a surprise agreement with the U.S. announced late Wednesday evening injected some hope into the talks. The two superpowers said they would work together to boost concrete action that would cut planet-warming emissions in the 2020s, a crucial decade. The bilateral pact also includes efforts to curb methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. 

In the last days of COP26, resistance remains to some key parts of a draft communique that has to be agreed by consensus. India, the world’s third-largest polluter, has also said it opposes the proposed line in an early draft of the Glasgow agreement to “accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.” India is seeking more financial support from rich countries before it makes stronger climate commitments. Saudi Arabia has denied accusation it is blocking progress. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on leaders late Wednesday not to stand in the way of an ambitious deal. 

COP26 talks have been made more complicated by the recent energy crisis. While China has resorted to mining more coal, the U.S. has been asking OPEC to pump more oil. China’s daily coal output hit a record 12.05 million tons on Wednesday, and prices have fallen by more than half since hitting an all-time high last month.

Production capacity will likely rise 2.6 per cent next year while demand will rise just 0.5 per cent because of contraction in some heavy industries, Niu Hui, a coal analyst at Fenwei, said at a conference Friday. Prices could see a short-lived rebound if cold weather in December and January drives temporary demand surges, but the market will fall into over-supply after Lunar New Year, sending prices down next year, Niu said. 

In October, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned that the nation’s green transition needs to be underpinned by a stable supply of energy and called for an in-depth assessment of the power crunch before setting any short-term targets for reaching peak emissions. Production of coal, natural gas and oil are still important to the country’s success and security, he said. Still, China has been moving ahead with a surge in renewable energy capacity, including a 100-gigawatt solar and wind project.

The country also argues that it will capture and store away some carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels. Sun Zhen, a member of China’s negotiation team who heads the climate change department under the environment ministry, said at an event in Glasgow that “instead of focusing on reducing the use of coal, we should focus on how to reduce the emissions of coal” using technology. 

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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