Phasing out fossil fuels is unrealistic as oil, natural gas, and coal will continue to play a crucial role in global energy supply and energy security, China’s special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said this week in a speech obtained by Reuters.
“It is unrealistic to completely phase out fossil fuel energy,” Xie, who will represent China at COP28 in Dubai in November, told ambassadors in Beijing ahead of the climate summit.
China is the world’s biggest consumer of coal and the largest importer of crude oil. Despite soaring renewable power capacity installations in recent years, China continues to consume growing volumes of coal, oil, and natural gas and continues to approve the construction of new coal-fired power capacity.
China, as well as India, has fought to have “phase down” instead of “phase out” in the language at all summits on climate and energy in recent years.
China is also building or planning to build some 366 gigawatts (GW) in new coal generation capacity, accounting for some 68% of global planned new coal capacity as of 2022.
This is according to a report earlier this year by climate think tank Global Energy Monitor, which also found that China accounted for more than half of the new global coal generation capacity that came online last year.
During the first half of 2023 alone, China approved more than 50 GW of new coal power, Greenpeace said in a report last month. That’s more than it did in all of 2021, the environmental campaign group said.
China is relying on coal to avoid blackouts as the economy reopened after the Covid lockdowns. During the first half of this year, coal production, coal imports, and coal-fired electricity generation surged and offset a significant decline in power output at China’s massive hydropower capacity due to insufficient rainfall and drought.