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China’s premier has called for an increase in coal production to avert massive blackouts as early summer heat waves led to record electricity consumption.

Authorities again issued high temperature warnings for a dozen central and northern provinces on Friday, after consecutive days in the low 30s.

As people sought to escape the heat this week, state media reported that demand for electricity rose 8.8% in northwest China from a year ago and 3.2% in northern China, citing the State Grid Corp of China. Records for maximum electrical loads have been broken in Shandong, Henan and Jiangsu.

Prime Minister Li Keqiang “urged tapping into peak coal capacity, securing electricity supply and resolutely preventing power outages during the summer peak season,” according to state media. Reports say Li also called for greater “efforts to accelerate efficient and clean coal-fired power generation.”

Authorities hope to avoid repeats of an energy crisis last year in which there were widespread power cuts, but there are fears that increased coal production could hamper China’s ability to keep its emission reduction promises.

In 2020, the government announced a target to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Last month, China released its third consecutive quarter of carbon emissions reductions. emissions, a feat which analysts say is due to Covid restrictions, is holding back the property development market, and efforts to boost clean energy.

China is a major investor in wind and solar, but its electricity system still relies heavily on coal power, using more than 50% of the country’s total supply, according to a research paper published in Nature this month. -this.

“Although China already has the world’s largest installed power generation capacity for renewables, a profound transformation of the power system will still be needed over the next 30 years to meet carbon emissions targets.” , indicates the document.

Observers say the Chinese government has, in practice, renewed interest in coal-fired power to provide stability, despite massive investments in wind and solar power. A confluence of factors contributed to the 2021 crisis, including strict energy rationing designed to meet efficiency targets clashing with energy-intensive infrastructure projects designed to revive the pandemic-hit economy. The trend towards coal production and energy self-sufficiency is also exacerbated by market volatility associated with the war in Ukraine.

“It’s fair to say that after the high mark set by the announcement of carbon neutrality in 2020, China’s climate momentum is waning,” said Li Shuo, senior global policy adviser for Greenpeace. “It will certainly serve as a delaying factor for China to achieve long-term deep decarbonization… Stronger political will is needed to deal with China during the current season of climate action.”

Jiang Yi, an academic from Tsinghua University and a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s latest national expert committee on climate change, said increasing coal production is not inconsistent with the government’s climate change commitments. of carbon.

“Before a new perfect power system has been built and the flexibility and storage capacity of the power system have been completely solved, it is also necessary to rely on coal-fired thermal power to ensure the supply,” Yi said. “On the one hand, we are seizing the assurance of supply, and on the other hand, we are also vigorously developing carbon-free energy systems to achieve the replacement of coal. The two are not contradictory.”

Sophie Geoghegan, climate campaigner at the Environmental Investigations Agency, said increasingly frequent and severe heatwaves around the world are increasing the demand for such cooling.

“The way AC is used, as soon as it gets hot everyone turns their own on…putting a huge strain on the grid which means there are either power outages or the peak power is turned on, and the peak power is handled by coal-fired plants,” she says. “It’s a catch-22: it’s hot so you turn on your AC, which increases the overall temperatures even more. China has therefore increased its coal production to meet a growing demand for cooling, but this is a short-term solution that has long-term implications.

Additional reporting by Xianqian Zhu, Chi Hui Lin and agencies

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