China says coal will play less-dominant role in its energy mix

Coal mine in central China's Anhui province
A worker at a coal mine in Huaibei, in central China’s Anhui province.

China, the world’s biggest coal user, said Tuesday that the polluting fossil fuel will play a less-dominant role in its energy mix and that, despite plans to build new coal-fired power plants, the country won’t use it on a wide scale.

The comments by Li Gao, the director general of the Department of Climate Change in China’s Environment Ministry, follow pledges by Chinese President Xi Jinping at last week’s climate summit, convened by President Biden, to work with the U.S. on cutting emissions.

“In the past, [coal] was the main source of power. In the future it will play the role of providing flexibility for the power grid,” Li said at a news conference.


“And now we still need a certain amount of coal ... but we will not develop coal on a wide-scale basis. That’s very clear, and that’s strictly regulated,” he added.

China, Japan and South Korea are the biggest funders of coal-fired power plants worldwide. Persuading them to stop will be a major challenge.

April 21, 2021

Li acknowledged that China was still building new coal power plants, but he emphasized that they were unlike traditional coal plants and would not emit as much as plants did previously. Climate experts have long advocated for a ban on new coal power plants, which would be a significant step.

China obtains roughly 60% of its power from coal, and is the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gases. During the Trump administration, the U.S. used China’s emissions as an excuse not to act, and in the past China pointed to U.S. historical emissions as a reason to resist action.

Beijing has previously set a target for non-fossil-fuel energy to account for 20% of the country’s total energy consumption by 2025, which will require further investment in solar and wind energy. Xi announced last year that China would be carbon-neutral by 2060 and aims to reach a peak in its emissions by 2030.

Germany and China agreed Monday to step up their cooperation in combating climate change, with the two discussing coal use and how to reduce it.