China’s plan to close coal plants: another step towards strong climate action

Today, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) issued a declaration that all of the country’s coal-fired power plants must keep on being idle and shut down. This is a big deal – a big,

Today, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) issued a declaration that all of the country’s coal-fired power plants must keep on being idle and shut down. This is a big deal – a big, strategic moment in China’s progress towards decarbonising the country’s economy and its skies.

For those of us in the world of climate science and policy, it’s obvious why. China produces ~40% of the world’s coal. The Chinese government wants to encourage greater private investment in solar and wind farms, using a state-driven plan called “Renewable Energy Plus”, the next phase of which is to push 90 GW of new clean energy power generation capacity. This involves cutting reliance on the older, less efficient technologies that don’t scale.

And China wants to reduce GHG emissions, too. An ambitious climate change plan recently outlined a 2020 goal to curb CO2 emissions per unit of GDP to 40-45%. China’s efforts to cut these emissions show that they’re serious about meeting their Climate Action Plan of 2020.

But even when it comes to China’s overall climate goals, there are more things at stake. China, like the rest of the world, is relying increasingly on coal for its energy. And so, China’s coal plant closures might affect everyone who lives and works in the region that the plants are in, or just the place that lights the power plant’s bulb.

China’s pledge to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to shut down their 100+ coal plants by 2030 is an important step. This demonstrates China’s commitment to putting real constraints on coal’s role in their economy. When the world gets serious about climate change, China is going to have to do its part too. I applaud their leadership. This is a story of leadership on the whole of the world.

China’s clean energy plans are one part of a large-scale policy package. China’s secret to getting closer to its emissions targets is to use more market-based methods and less on subsidy. They’ve mostly avoided the use of subsidies, but also have relied heavily on a carbon price to spur changes. China is planning to establish a market for carbon credits in 2020, and have actively accelerated their clean energy innovations as part of a new energy tax. China also has a strategy to improve energy efficiency in their vehicles through more biofuel-powered vehicles.

And then there are all the policies the government promotes to promote change and decarbonisation. The Ministry of Environmental Protection has a new account that includes improvements to municipal water supplies and sewerage systems. Cities have a lot of work to do, as much of the world’s work has already gone into making cities more sustainable.

Urbanization and population growth are the biggest factors. 70% of the world’s population lives in urban areas today. Without efforts to promote sustainability in cities, there’s no one left to grow the natural capital needed to sustain the natural systems humans depend on. A bill that passed in the House yesterday, to improve municipal wastewater treatment systems, illustrates this point.

Municipal governments see this as a big opportunity. China is already leading the world in using high frequency solar and LED lights in city public lighting. And in China’s aging cities, a new Sustainable Cities program provides cities with financing to achieve the higher levels of sustainable construction and infrastructure.

This is also an important moment for the rest of the world. People in countries and cities throughout the world are looking to China to lead. This is one more reason for nations to aim for clear goals and 2020 Nationally Determined Contributions, so that countries like China don’t hold others back.

And this is a real opportunity for Australian solar industry. There are high-growth opportunities for new generation solar and grid storage energy in the coming years. As solar production from China doubles in the next 5 years, Australian solar companies can not only compete with China, but provide a roadmap to clean energy for the whole world.

Leave a Comment