Report: Out of Step – China Is Driving the Continued Growth of the Global Coal Fleet

Proposed fleet expansion will far exceed entire world’s limit for coal power under Paris Agreement


Today, Global Energy Monitor released Out of Step: China is driving the continued growth of the global coal fleet. The report, based on plant-by-plant research by the Global Coal Plant Tracker, finds that from 2018 through June 2019, countries outside of China decreased their total coal power capacity by 8.1 gigawatts (GW), due to steady retirements and an ongoing decline in the commissioning of new coal plants. Over the same period China increased its coal fleet by 42.9 GW, and as a result the global coal fleet overall grew by 34.9 GW.

This dichotomy is poised to continue. China has 147.7 gigawatts (GW) of coal plants either under active construction or under suspension and likely to be revived—an amount nearly equivalent to the existing coal power capacity of the European Union (150 GW). The total is more than the amount under construction in the rest of the world combined (105.2 GW).

Meanwhile, coal and power industry groups including the China Electricity Council, the State Grid Energy Research Institute, and the Electric Power Planning and Design Institute are proposing that the country’s current coal power capacity of 1,027 GW be increased to a range of 1,200 and 1,400 GW by 2035. According to the report, any further increase in China’s coal power capacity is not compatible with the Paris climate agreement to hold warming well below 2°C, much less a large increase in coal power capacity through 2035.

From January 2018 to June 2019, countries outside of China decreased their total coal power capacity by 8.1 GW, while China increased its coal fleet by 42.9 GW.

China’s proposal to continue growing its coal fleet through 2035 comes as 31 countries have proposed phasing out coal power by 2030. Of the countries that continue to develop coal, China is financing over a quarter (102 GW) of all proposed coal plants outside its borders, including most coal power capacity under development in South Africa, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, among others. Combined with domestic proposals, Chinese financing is behind over half of all global coal power capacity currently under development.

“China’s proposed coal expansion is so far out of alignment with the Paris Agreement that it would put the necessary reductions in coal power out of reach, even if every other country were to completely eliminate its coal fleet,” said Christine Shearer of Global Energy Monitor. “Instead of expanding further, China needs to make significant reductions to its coal fleet over the coming decade.”

“China’s continued expansion flies directly in the face of the UN Secretary General’s statement at the Climate Action Summit in September that no new coal plants should be built after 2020,” said Ted Nace of Global Energy Monitor.

The report includes the following findings:

  • China added 42.9 GW of net new coal power capacity from 2018 to June 2019, while the rest of the world decreased coal power capacity by 8.1 GW.
  • 121.3 GW of coal power capacity in China are under construction. An additional 26.4 GW of construction projects are under suspension and likely to be revived, based on recent trends and project-by-project analysis of satellite photos and permits.
  • The large amount of capacity under development is due to the ineffectiveness of restrictions imposed after a permitting surge that occurred from 2014 to 2016, with nearly half (83.9 GW) of 169.5 GW of coal power capacity restricted in 2017 now advancing, mainly into construction or commissioning.
  • By 2030, China needs to reduce its coal power capacity over 40% from the current 1,027 GW to 600 GW or less, in order to meet the reductions required in coal power use to hold global warming well below 2°C, according to GEM’s analysis.
  • If China adopts proposals by industry groups to increase its coal power capacity to between 1,200 and 1,400 GW through 2035, its coal power generation alone will be more than three times as large as the global limit on coal power use determined by the IPCC to keep warming well below 2°C.

The report concludes: “China’s continued expansion of its coal fleet is not inevitable: the central government could strengthen its existing policies discouraging coal plant building, continue incentivizing low-carbon power over coal, and begin a transition toward clean energy. The path that China’s central government chooses could make or break Paris climate goals.”

Note: A typical coal-fired generating unit is 300–1,000 megawatts (0.3–1.0 GW) in size, with most power stations having two or more such units.


Download report (English)

Download report (Chinese)

Global Coal Plant Tracker (including methodology and summary data)