China and COP26: Will an Energy Crisis Harm Efforts to Reduce Emissions?

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In China’s Guangdong province, factory owner Zhang Hong was ordered to close for four days a week in late September, damaging production and the income of workers at his printed circuit board factory.

It is part of a broader energy crisis in China.

Why did we write this?

China will play a key role in whether the world can curb global warming. But it is also an industrial powerhouse, and recent electricity shortages reveal future challenges in balancing economic and environmental goals.

Energy shortages disrupted daily life and factory production, weakened the economy and exacerbated supply chain disruptions around the world. The shortages arose when soaring domestic coal demand collided with government controls on electricity prices and use and coal imports.

As world leaders meet at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, China is looking to get more coal-fired power, not less. All of this highlights the scale of China’s long-term challenge of phasing out fossil fuels.

China has promised that its emissions will peak by around 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060.

“There are … voices and interests in China that are trying to use this crisis to attack China’s climate goals and ambitions and to underline how important it is to increase the supply of fossil fuels,” says energy expert Lauri Myllyvirta in Helsinki.

Meanwhile, “some of the measures already taken also benefit clean energy,” he says. “It is too early to say which of these answers will prevail.”

Seattle

Liu Rui, a university student from Tonghua, a city in Jilin Province, felt anxious. A sudden and widespread power outage across northeastern China left her family without electricity to cook or heat water, and her laptop battery was running low before an online class.

“I have always been afraid that the Internet would suddenly go offline during the class,” Ms. Liu says via email, using a pseudonym to protect her privacy. He describes the dark streets and shops of his neighborhood and feels like a thief walking through a dimly-lit supermarket looking for frozen steamed buns, only to find no sandwiches and the freezer turned off.

Thousands of miles south in China’s Guangdong province, factory owner Zhang Hong faced a similar dilemma. Its printed circuit board factory, part of China’s vast electronics manufacturing ecosystem, was ordered in late September to close four days a week, damaging production and workers’ income. “Government staff will notify us if the work can begin the next day,” he says, speaking on the condition that his real name is withheld.

Why did we write this?

China will play a key role in whether the world can curb global warming. But it is also an industrial powerhouse, and recent electricity shortages reveal future challenges in balancing economic and environmental goals.

Across China, the worst energy shortage in a decade has led to electricity rationing in most provinces, disrupting daily life and industrial production, holding back the economy and exacerbating supply chain disruptions across the country. world. The shortages arose when soaring domestic coal demand collided with government controls on electricity prices and use and coal imports.

To increase power generation, Beijing responded with a strong push to increase coal production and power generation, as well as a significant relaxation of electricity price controls. But as world leaders meet at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, to try to tackle greenhouse gas emissions that have already raised global average temperatures by more than one degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels, all eyes are on China, the world’s largest polluter. and the second economy.

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