China Increases Coal Production Amid Global Energy Shortage, Moves Carbon Reduction Plans Further to the Future

By Jennifer Bateman
Jennifer Bateman
Jennifer Bateman
Jennifer Bateman is a news writer focused on China.
April 12, 2022 Updated: April 12, 2022

Sanctions placed on Russia, by many of the world governments for invading Ukraine, have aggravated global energy supplies, and forced many countries to revert to other sources of energy, including coal, that the West has tried to move away from because of concerns about high carbon dioxide emissions.

China is also taking the opportunity to adjust its energy policy and increase its production and reserves of fossil fuel supplies, such as coal. Its recently released official guidelines no longer mention carbon reduction commitments to the international community.

China is the world’s largest carbon emitter. Its 2021 carbon dioxide emissions exceeded 11.9 billion tons, accounting for nearly 33 percent of the world’s total emissions, far exceeding the proportion of China’s population, which is accounts for about 20 percent of the world.

On March 29, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) issued its “Guiding Opinions on Energy Work in 2022,” with the top priority this year being to “guarantee a safe and stable supply of energy,” through increased production targets for coal, oil, and natural gas.

Compared with 2021, China’s standard coal production will increase by 210 million tons this year, crude oil production will increase slightly by 4 million tons, and natural gas will increase by 11.5 billion cubic meters.

The NEA document stated that in order to strengthen the “bottom-line protection ability” of coal and coal power, more coal mines should be opened to increase coal production.

China produced 4.41 billion tons of coal last year, and an increase of 210 million tons this year brings the increase to 4.8 percent. At the same time, China’s coal imports increased by more than 320 million tons last year, a 6.6 percent increase over 2020, despite the CCP’s punitive reduction of Australian coal imports last year.

China’s energy consumption is dominated by coal, the “dirtiest energy.” Coal-fired thermal power generation accounts for nearly 70 percent of China’s total power generation. China is the world’s largest coal consuming country and the world’s largest importer, with Russia being one of its major suppliers.

China is also dependent on imports of both oil and natural gas. China’s natural gas imports have grown continuously over the past 10 years, with a record year-on-year increase of 19.9 percent last year. The import volume exceeded 150 billion cubic meters, an eight-fold increase over 2010, and China’s natural gas dependence on foreign countries rose to 45.8 percent.

Furthermore, China is the world’s largest crude oil importer and second-largest crude oil consumer. In the 20 years after 2001, China’s crude oil imports have increased year after year, and its dependence on imports has also continued to increase. In 2021, its foreign dependence on crude oil will have risen to 72 percent.

Carbon Emission Reduction Commitments

China’s latest NEA document doesn’t mention its previous carbon emission reduction commitments to the international community. Instead, the document says that China wants to increase the production of high-carbon fossil energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas, and at the same time “speed up the green and low-carbon transformation of energy.”

Although China has signaled many times before that it wants to relax its carbon reduction targets, it has never clearly laid out detailed targets as in this latest policy.

At the United Nations General Assembly last September, Chinese authorities went beyond their commitment to carbon peaking (a gradual reduction in carbon emissions to peak by 2030) and carbon neutrality (net carbon emissions reaching zero by 2060) goals, as well as its commitment to reduce energy intensity (energy consumed per unit of GDP).

These goals were also listed in the Chinese regime’s latest five-year plan (2021-2025), which promised to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP and carbon emissions by 13.5 percent and 18 percent respectively by 2025.

But after a campaign by the Communist Party’s Central Committee to force several provinces to implement total energy consumption and intensity controls last September, which led to widespread power cuts and production shutdowns across the country, authorities quickly reversed previous restrictions on the coal power industry and allowed previously closed coal mines to resume production. In January and February of this year, they further approved a batch of new coal mines to begin operations, increasing coal output by 10 percent over the same period last year.

However, at a top-level Party meeting on Jan. 24, the authorities changed a number of carbon emission reduction policies, paving the way for a return to the use of fossil energy such as coal.

At the United Nations’ COP26 climate conference last November, China also reached a rare agreement with the United States to “phase down” coal consumption after 2025, rather than the “phase out” that the conference was promoting at the time, and the agreement was adopted by the convention at the last minute.

Jennifer Bateman is a news writer focused on China.