Energy shortage forces China to take drastic measures


Herry Lawford |

Basmalla Attia

China increased its coal consumption to heat homes and to supply the growing manufacturing demands in the country after its recent energy shortage. Meanwhile, leaders at COP26, the annual U.N. climate conference, have made urgent calls to cut carbon emissions globally.

China is highly dependent on coal for electricity. Its energy shortage started due to a conflict between the market-oriented coal prices and the government-controlled electricity rates.

China closed 5,5000 coal mines and put restrictions on its production, which two-thirds of its electricity is dependent on, as an effort to decrease carbon emission. This led to coal output decreasing and with low imports, coal prices increased, according to reports from the Financial Times. Electricity companies were not able to pass the increase in price to consumers because there is a national price cap, according to Foreign Policy. Things were worsened by the hot and windless summer, which failed to generate hydroelectric power, resulting in only a  small amount of electricity generated from renewable sources.

This shortage comes at a difficult time as global consumer spending is rising after the pandemic, creating a high demand for goods. To meet this high demand, as well as provide heat and electricity to households, China has decided to increase its coal consumption. The country has burned 6% more coal than last year, according to The New York Times.

Being a global supplier, China has long been polluting the air through its industries that  use  fossil fuels. China ranked as the No. 1 coal consumer of 2020, and it consumed 53% of the world’s coal-powered electricity last year, according to a report by the climate research group Ember.

China used about 82.3 exajoules of coal in 2020, which is more than all the countries in the world combined. In contrast,the United States used 9.2 exajoules and Europe consumed 5.9 exajoules in 2020, according to Statista.

This increased coal consumption has pushed  China to reopen closed mines and allow coal miners to be overworked in horrible conditions while lacking safety measures. China’s National Mine Safety Administration reported that 10 accidents left 18 workers dead in the last four weeks, according to The New York Times.

As world leaders gathered in an effort to combat the consumption of fossil fuels that are leading to a worsening climate crisis, China’s excessive coal consumption caused fear of not meeting these goals.

Air pollution, which is found to contribute to 1.6 premature deaths per year, has risen in China’s big cities recently, according to The New York Times.

There is no doubt that China has made major efforts to combat climate change, such as closing coal mines in the past five years and adding wind and solar energy, but its recent decision to open coal mines and to exhaust the coal industry is a step backward when it comes to addressing climate change issues.

Critics fear that this will threaten China’s 14th five-year plan, a plan consisting of tough climate goals to cut carbon emissions.They also fear that excessive coal consumption will become a permanent solution to addressing power shortages, according to CNBC. China’s State Council has announced that it will support polluting industries to ensure households receive heat this winter, according to the Financial Times.

Countries awaited China’s updated climate goals after this decision of excessive coal consumption. However, Beijing’s updated climate goals after the crisis included no changes. The country instead restated its original plan of declining carbon emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2060, according to NBC.

Without efforts from China to immensely lower its coal consumption, tackling climate change will be a challenge.