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China should close 186 coal plants early to meet climate goals: study

The large number of plants are each performing poorly and “particularly suitable” for fast-track retirement.

Some 18% of China’s coal-fired power plants “can be retired first and rapidly” to help the country achieve its goals of carbon neutrality by 2060, according to a newly-published study.

The study, titled A Pant-by-Plant Strategy for High-Ambition Coal Power Phaseout in China, found that around 186 out of the 1,037 active coal plants are performing poorly and are “particularly suitable” for fast-track retirement from a technical, economic, and environmental perspective.

Other existing plants could reach a minimum lifetime of 20 or 30 years with gradually reduced operational capacity once the shutdown happens. It will see China phase out coal entirely by 2045 under the 1.5-degree (Celsius) temperature goal, and 2055 under the 2C pathway.

The study, however, only explores these outcomes under the assumption that China stops building new coal plants altogether. At the moment, China has around 247GW of coal power projects under development.

“China’s decarbonisation pathways suggest that any addition of new coal plants is not in line with the Paris climate goals,” the authors explain.

The goal of carbon neutrality is currently far from sight amidst increasing demand for electricity, traditional economic returns of investing in coal power, and lack of relevant policy.

The study was led by the University of Maryland Centre for Global Sustainability China programme co-director Ryna Yiyun Cui. It was recently published in open-access journal Nature Communications.

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