April 20, 2017
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China has endured two months of scorching heatwaves and drought that have affected power supply in the country. Spooked by future energy security, Beijing is reinvesting heavily in coal with disastrous implications for climate change.
Two months of scorching heatwaves and drought plunged China into an energy security crisis.
Sichuan suffered from power shortages after low rainfall and extreme temperatures over 40℃ dried up rivers and reservoirs. Heavy rainfall this week, however, has just seen power in Sichuan for commercial and industrial use fully restored, according to official Chinese media.
The energy crisis has seen Beijing shift its political discourse and proclaim energy security as a more urgent national mission than the green energy transition. Now, the government is investing in a new wave of coal-fired power stations to try to meet demand.
In the first quarter of 2022 alone, China approved 8.63 gigawatts of new coal plants and, in May, announced C¥ 10 billion (around $1.4 billion) of investment in coal power generation. What’s more, it will expand the capacity of a number of coal mines to ensure domestic supply as the international coal market price jumped amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
China is responsible for around a third of global carbon dioxide emissions, which makes this latest rebound to fossil fuels a climate change emergency.
In 2021, China’s CO2 emissions rose above 11.9 billion tons – their highest level in history and dwarfing those of other countries. And according to the International Energy Agency, rapid GDP growth and electrification of energy services caused China’s electricity demand to grow by 10% in 2021. This is faster than its economic growth at 8.4%.
During its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), the government called off a number of coal power projects. Thermal power investment halved over this time.
In September 2020, President Xi Jinping delivered China’s “dual carbon” goal at the United Nations General Assembly, saying China will hit peak emissions before 2030 and reach net-zero by 2060.
A few months later, this goal was moved ahead of schedule. At a summit of global leaders, Jinping promised that China’s coal use would peak in 2025.
But the downward trend of coal consumption started to rebound in 2021, with a 4.6% year-on-year increase, the highest growth rate in a decade.
China is responsible for around a third of global carbon dioxide emissions
Over 33 gigawatts of coal power generation, including at least 43 new power plants and 18 new blast furnaces, started construction in China in 2021. This is the highest level since 2016 and almost three times the rest of the world combined.
Then, in 2022, we witnessed the international coal market skyrocket as geopolitical tension from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and economic recovery from the pandemic boosted global demand. Beijing, in turn, increased domestic coal production with double-digit growth in the first half of 2022.
A coal miner in Xingtai, China, in 2008.
The current energy crisis is not only an unintended consequence of the drought, but also a result of its long-term net-zero emissions goal. Increased coal import costs and rash control of domestic coal production put China’s energy supply in question, and renewable energy wasn’t ready to fill the gap.
Indeed, it isn’t the first energy security crisis China has endured in recent years. Last year, dozens of provinces experienced “power cuts” partly due to long-term reductions in coal production between 2016-2020.
In response to the crisis, the People’s Daily newspaper – the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party – stated “the rice bowl of energy must be held in your own hands”. And Chinese Energy News called energy security a matter of national destiny.
Caught between green energy promises and dwindling energy supply, Beijing turned to see green energy as a secondary goal that could be put aside after energy security is fully guaranteed.
The principle of “establishment before abolition” (establishment of energy security before abolition of coal, xian li hou po) was reaffirmed in “Two Sessions”, an important political event in China held in March this year.
Chinese premier Li Keqiang positioned energy security to the same level of importance as food security in a Two Sessions government report.
Until China decarbonises, we’re not going to beat climate change
The push for more coal power is at odds with China’s climate goals. According to China’s 13th Five Year Plan, coal-fired plants should be capped at generating 1,100 gigawatts of electricity.
To date, China has 1,074 gigawatts of coal power in operation, but more than 150 gigawatts of new plants have either been announced or permitted, according to the Global Energy Monitor.
The China Electricity Council – the industry group for China’s power sector – recommends the country reaches 1,300 gigawatts of coal-fired power in 2030 to meet the rising demand and strengthen energy security. If this occurs, it would see more than 300 new plants built.
Without more restrictions against China’s use of fossil fuels, the world will hardly meet Paris Agreement climate targets.
China is expected to cease coal use entirely by 2050 in order to successfully meet promised climate targets. But the more resources are invested, the harder it’ll be for China to get rid of fossil fuels.
The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) will be crucial in determining how China meets its carbon commitments and whether the world is on track to meet the 1.5℃ target. Under this plan, China wants carbon to peak by 2030, but the action plan remains vague.
As Professor David Tyfield of the Lancaster Environment Centre asserted: “until China decarbonizes, we’re not going to beat climate change.”
*Guangyi Pan is PhD candidate, UNSW Sydney. Hao Yang is a sessional lecturer, University of Newcastle.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
The successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the northeast has brought Kyiv’s troops to the border, now with the artillery capacity to strike inside Russian territory. What are risks of launching a “counter-invasion”? What are risks of not doing so?
Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.