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China’s push to burn more coal puts climate goals at risk.

todayNovember 1, 2021 1

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China, the world’s biggest user of fossil fuels, has taken big steps in recent days to address the global energy shortage this fall and to fight inflation, but the moves come at considerable cost to efforts to halt climate change.

The country has begun expanding coal production by more than what Western Europe mines in a year, in a campaign that will help the country end recent electricity shortages. And Beijing separately said on Sunday that it was releasing diesel from its strategic reserves to ensure that fueling stations do not run short.

Diesel demand and diesel prices have surged in China in recent weeks. Many factories have started running diesel generators this fall because they cannot get enough electricity from the grid to meet their fast-rising power needs.

China’s extra coal production has helped bring down world coal prices in the past two weeks. Oil prices fell slightly in early trading in Asia on Monday after China’s announcement on diesel supplies, although they later rebounded. Rising fossil fuel prices have contributed to an uptick in inflation around the world this year.

But burning coal, already the world’s single biggest cause of human-driven climate change, will increase China’s emissions of climate change gases and toxic air pollution.

And as world leaders gather in Glasgow to discuss ways to halt climate change, China’s extra coal by itself would increase humanity’s output of planet-warming carbon dioxide by a full percentage point, said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

“The timing is horrible,” Mr. Korsbakken said. “Let’s hope it’s just a temporary measure to mitigate the current energy crisis.”

Beijing’s leaders are determined to provide ample coal this winter to power China’s factories and heat its homes. Widespread electricity shortages, caused partly by coal shortages, nearly paralyzed many industrial cities three weeks ago.

But the potential costs go beyond global-warming emissions. Although China has made huge strides toward cleaner air over the past decade, extra coal and diesel use could threaten some of that progress. As recently as 2015, air pollution was found to contribute to 1.6 million premature deaths per year.

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