'Sheer Madness': Coal Surges in China, Threatening Paris Climate Targets
While most of the world is reducing its dependence on coal-fired power because of the enormous amount of greenhouse gases associated with it, China raised its coal fired capacity over 2018 and half of 2019, according to a new study.
Over the 18-month period that ended in June, China bucked the international trend and raised its coal-fired power capacity 42.9 gigawatts (GW), or about 4.5 percent, while connecting new coal projects to its grid, according to the study, as Reuters reported. In the rest of the world, coal-fired capacity fell 8.1 GW.
"As more countries turn away from coal and retire their plants, China's continued pursuit of coal is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world, and is now effectively driving the ongoing expansion of the global coal fleet," the study authors wrote.
The recent surge in coal investments echoes the push for economic development and the "one coal plant a week" building program that ran for a decade from 2006 to 2015. That push to meet a growing demand for energy led to overcapacity, as most plants were only able to run half the time, and it brought an enormous amount of air pollution to Chinese cities, making it hazardous to be outside, as the BBC reported.
As for the Paris agreement targets:
"China's proposal to continue increasing its coal power capacity through 2035 is not compatible with the steep and rapid reductions needed in coal power generation to limit the rise in global average temperature to well below 2°C," the report says.
It also concluded that the future path China chooses could make or break the Paris climate goals.
The surge in coal development happened with a disconnect between local government and Beijing. While the national government promised an "energy revolution" with a large investment in renewable sources, local governments were allowed to issue new permits as a way to boost growth and they were allowed to restart suspended coal projects, as Reuters reported.
In the time since Beijing promised an energy revolution in 2015, local governments permitted up to five times more plants than in any similar period, as the BBC reported.
"This goat that the snake swallowed is still moving through the snake, and it's coming out in the form of another 20 percent in the Chinese coal fleet on top of a fleet that was already over-built," said Nace.
In addition to the power it is already generating, China has another 121.3 GW of coal-fired power plants under construction, according to the report. That's nearly enough to power all of France, as Reuters reported.
China has boosted its investment in renewable energy. It successfully cut coal's contribution to the country's total energy from 68 percent in 2012 to 59 percent last year, and researchers predict it will fall to 55.3 percent by 2020. However, while that is welcome news, the total amount of coal that is burned has continued to climb as China's overall demand for energy has grown, according to Reuters.
"The continued growth of China's coal fleet and consideration of plans to significantly raise the nation's coal power cap show that while the country is often hailed as a clean energy leader, the momentum of coal power expansion has yet to be halted," says the study.
China has drawn criticism from environmental groups since it has used money earmarked for green energy to invest in clean coal. China approved 40 new coal mines in 2019 and it is building 50 percent more coal plants than the rest of the world combined, as the BBC reported. China also funds one quarter of all the coal plants outside its borders in countries like South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
"The thing we are super worried about is that industry has actually organized to keep the whole thing going," said Nace to the BBC. "There are three different powerful trade groups, proposing to increase the coal fleet by 40 percent. This is sheer madness at this point."
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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