China’s Coal Output Reached Record Heights in 2022
Scientists have said that, in order to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, all or almost all of coal burning must cease by 2050.
Yet in 2022, China produced a record amount of coal at 4.496 billion tonnes, which is nine percent more than the year before, according to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data reported by Reuters. This isn’t necessarily a surprise, as China joined Europe in emphasizing domestic energy security in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the global energy crisis, even if that means relying on the dirtiest fossil fuel.
“We don’t want to be like Europe and transform at the cost of energy security. They are now declaring that they are taking a step back in order to take two steps forward later,” Tsinghua University climate change and energy professor Li Zheng said in November 2022, as OilPrice.com reported.
China maintained at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt last year that it would maintain its goal of reaching peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2060. However, in the near term it has plans to build additional coal plants to protect against shortages, which could boost its capacity by 270 gigawatts by 2025, more than the current coal capacity of the U.S.
In March of 2022, national leaders reaffirmed the importance of coal for energy security during the annual meeting of parliament, as Reuters reported. This was partly in response to 2021 power outages in the country’s industrial hub.
“Reinvigorated emphasis on energy security emerged late last year and it will become stronger now with the crisis in Ukraine,” Greenpeace senior climate adviser Li Shuo said at the time, as Reuters reported.
Then, in one of the cruel ironies of the climate crisis, a summer heat wave and drought hit the country’s hydroelectric output hard, leading it to increase coal outputs and imports, as CNN reported at the time. The daily burning of thermal coal reached a record high of 8.5 million tonnes on August 3.
While 2022 was a record year for coal production overall, output did decline towards the year’s end. This was because the Chinese government abandoned its zero-COVID strategy at the end of November, Reuters explained. The loosening of restrictions led to a sharp uptick of COVID cases among both coal miners and factory workers, leading to reduced output in the mines and reduced demand from industry.
In November, coal output was at 13.04 million tonnes per day. It then declined to 12.99 million tonnes per day in December, close to the 12.41 million tonnes of coal produced in December 2021.
Lower coal demand is expected to last through January, but the relaxed restrictions are projected to eventually increase coal demand from the steel, cement and other sectors. At the same time, mining output should increase because the National Development and Reform Commission has encouraged utilities to lengthen the term of mining contracts in the new year.