China and India: the new “climate leaders”?

It was with quite some surprise that I read this tweet written by Joeri Thijs (spokesman of Greenpeace Belgium) (translated from Dutch):

India and China are gradually becoming the new climate leaders. Europe urgently needs to step it up a notch.

I was surprised reading such a statement, especially related to China which has by far the highest emissions. Also, their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) basically said (from memory) that it would peak emissions only by 2030 and afterwards work on energy intensity (which doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in emissions). So how could he consider both countries to be climate leaders in that regard? Especially compared to the EU, which is actually doing something in order to cut emissions.

On the one hand, the comparison seemed ridiculous, but on the other hand, I think I could somehow understand what he means. As seen in some previous posts (like this one), almost half of new solar PV in 2016 was built in China and India was also in the top 5. So if one only focuses on this specific aspect, then it is very tempting to claim that China and India are world leaders in this area.

That is of course only one side of the story and the other side doesn’t look very favorable.

Looking at the Coal Plants by Country data that I used in some previous posts, it paints a slightly different picture. China and India are in the top 3 of the countries with the highest capacity of coal:

Operating capacity
  Country Capacity (MW) % of World capacity
1 China 922,062 46.9
2 United States 281,127 14.3
3 India 218,091 11.1

They are not done yet. China and India are in the top 2 of the countries in which coal capacity is under construction:

Under construction
  Country Capacity (MW) % of World capacity
1 China 147,143 55.7
2 India 43,418 16.4
3 Vietnam 11,385 4.3

It gets a bit boring when we look at the announced/pre-permit and permitted capacity:

Announced + pre-permit + permitted capacity
  Country Capacity (MW) % of World capacity
1 China 152,775 27.9
2 India 101,370 25.6
3 Turkey 59,630 20.3

China is not only leader in solar PV (1/4 of the world installed solar PV) and addition of solar PV (1/2 of world additions of coal capacity), but also leader in installed capacity of coal (1/2 of the world installed coal) and additions (1/2 of the world additions of coal capacity) and also in the announced/pre-permit/permitted capacity. India could also consistently be found in the top 3.

Back to the tweet. It stated that Europe needed to step it up a notch because of China and India. So did China and India maybe decreased their coal additions more than Europe? Looking at the coal capacity data that seems not to be the case. There were 4 countries in the EU (I think the tweeter meant “EU” since there was no mention of “Europe” in the report) that currently has coal capacity under construction:

  1. Czech Republic (660 MW)
  2. Germany (1,100 MW)
  3. Greece (660 MW)
  4. Poland (4,465 MW)

Together they had 6,885 MW of coal capacity under construction. India has 43,418 MW and China 147,143 MW. Compared to their operational capacity this is 4% for the EU, 16% for China and 20% for India. In that regard China and India also didn’t do better than the EU.

When we add announced + pre-permit + permitted capacity, then the difference is even more pronounced (10 – 33 – 66).

How does this fit in with being “climate leaders”? Luckily, there is a link in the tweet that goes to a ClimateActionTracker report that explains why China and India “stepped up on climate action”. Knowing the above, I was very curious how these two countries could been seen as examples.

In the report it was stated that the largest changes in policy implementation come from China and India, but shattered in the report are admissions that emissions in China and India are still projected to grow. For example at page 7:

Although recent policy changes in China and India are likely to lead to slower growth than previously expected, GHG emissions in those countries are still projected to grow 7% and 51% respectively between 2020 and 2030 (mean current policy projection CAT).

Then there was the entry of China on page 9:

CO2 emissions in China are projected to peak within the next five years, if they have not already done so.

That optimistic claim contradicts their statement of just a couple pages ago.

Since 2013, coal consumption has decreased, and energy-related CO2 emissions have stagnated since 2014.

Coal consumption indeed decreased, but production increased and there is a lot of capacity still in the pipeline. The second part of the statement seems cherry-picking: if emissions are increasing and energy-related emissions have stagnated, doesn’t that mean that the other emissions went up?

Renewable energy is widely supported and beginning to crowd out coal.

This is the primary energy consumption in 2016 of China (BP data):

Unless they use a weird definition of “crowding out”, renewables (the blue and green small slices) with a share of 10.5% are not even close to “crowding out” coal (the big grey slice) with a share of 63.7%.

It continues my emphasis):

The government recently cancelled plans for just over 100 coal-fired power plants totalling 120 GW capacity (Boren, 2017), which would have emitted roughly 0.75 GtCO2 annually. Some of the cancelled plants were already under construction.

The fast growth of renewable energy -and slowing energy demand- has made the capacity additions obsolete. At the same time, renewable energy targets were increased yet again, to keep
up with the rapid development on the ground (NEA, 2017).

Not sure what they are talking about in the second paragraph. If I look at China’s electricity consumption from 2006-2016:

then I don’t see a slowing down of energy consumption. Apparently it is not about electricity consumption, probably about primary energy consumption:

There is indeed a small slowing down in primary energy consumption. Coal energy consumption effectively goes down a bit and renewables (Wind + Solar + Hydro + Geothermal and others) is steadily increasing.

The question is how much does it replaces? In 2016, coal energy consumption dropped 26.07 Mtoe, renewables increased by 32.67 Mtoe. Meaning renewables replaced coal and had 6.6 Mtoe extra. So far so good. But at the same time energy consumption did increase also with 47.1 Mtoe. So what accounted for the portion that renewables didn’t replace (40.5 Mtoe)?

The share of coal energy dropped in 2016, that is correct, but there is still almost 300 MW installed capacity in the pipeline. That is almost a third of what is installed right now.

By the way, the renewables above include Hydro energy and this is a form of renewables that Greenpeace is against. This is closer to what Greenpeace would agree with:

Hydro is the biggest part of renewables in China (although not with the biggest increase). Without hydro, the difference of 40.5 Mtoe grows to 42.77 Mtoe. But that aside.

The report continues:

China is set to overachieve its contribution to the Paris Agreement by a wide margin. On average, China’s total GHG emissions are 0.7 GtCO2e lower in 2030 compared to our previous estimate from November 2016; with continued coal abatement (the bottom of our current policy range) it could even be 1.4 GtCO2e lower.

Overachieve? As far as I know, China had almost any ambitions in its INDC, unless peaking emissions only after 15 years is ambitious. From that position it is incredibly simple to “overachieve”.

It also not clear to me whether those saved emissions were actually saved. Was that cancelled capacity of coal power really saved or just cancelled in one place and rebuild somewhere else? There is still a lot in the pipeline.

Then follows the entry for India:

In December 2016, India published its Draft Electricity Plan. It projects that despite the increasing electricity demand, no new coal-fired power plants, apart from those that are already under construction, would be needed after 2022 (Central Electricity Authority, 2016). 50 GW of coal capacity is under construction, emitting roughly 0.3 GtCO2e a year-if built.

If India fully implements the Draft Electricity Plan, national emissions in 2030 would be around 0.9 GtCO2e lower than last year’s estimate of implemented policies, and would move India closer to the “1.5°C compatible” CAT rating category. India is expected to achieve its NDC with implemented policies, without having to take further action.

It is of course a very nice projection (from December 2016) that only the “under construction” capacity will be needed, but that is not what I see in the latest coal capacity data (from July 2017):

India still has 22,820 MW announced capacity + 49,265 MW pre-permit capacity + 29,285 MW permitted capacity of coal. Together that is 101,370 MW and unless I understand that part of the table terribly wrong, is still in the pipeline. That is half of what is installed right now.

Also, they seem to rely for their cheering on a DRAFT plan from ONE YEAR AGO, while the situation doesn’t seem to have changed according to the latest data. The cheering is not based on actual progress, but on potential progress (if the draft plan actually gets implemented).

Concluding, are China and India the climate leaders that they were painted as? China might have the biggest share of solar PV in the world and also the biggest addition of solar PV, but it also is the undisputed leader in coal capacity and the addition of coal capacity…

India is also in the top 3 of coal capacity and addition of coal capacity. It also has by far the biggest share of coal capacity in the pipeline and compared to their current operational capacity, they didn’t do better than the EU either.

The accomplishment on which their climate leadership is based seems to be a possible change in their future plans. This is not really a real reduction, but a virtual one. In reality they will stay (the) big(gest) emitters and, since they are in full development, this will not change any time soon.

2 thoughts on “China and India: the new “climate leaders”?

  1. chrism56

    Wasn’t the announcement that China and India were now the leaders a bit of political PR by the organisations upset Trump was pulling the US out of the Paris agreement? Those people have never got over the fact that the administration changed, and the policies changed with it. The fact that the US had decarbonised by the switch from coal to natural gas was irrelevant. All that was done without government policy. In the world of social justice warriors, actions are always plays second fiddle to words.

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    1. trustyetverify Post author

      I also think the cheering story about China and India is PR. It is rather easy recognizable PR because they focus solely on the positive things and completely ignore the (obvious) things that don’t fit the narrative. That is why I realized something was not right and started digging.

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