Greenpeace denounces China for its expansion of coal energy despite Paris Agreement

NEWS - While the Paris Agreement, adopted by consensus at COP21 in December 2015 and opened to signature on the 22th of April 2016 at New York, is steadily but slowly being ratified by more and more member States – 19 amongst them have already done it- , Greenpeace accuses China of not respecting its promises and of further deteriorating the ecological situation of their country, thus endangering multiple human rights such as the right to health and the protection of future generations, as it will only increase global warming. 


Pollution in China. Source: Crisis pictures blog.

China, a huge world emitter of CO2
COP21 was considered a diplomatic success, as it ended in a total consensus and the general agreement of holding the rise of global temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial level.
The importance of China agreeing with the Paris Agreement, signing it and eventually ratifying it – that is to say, having it pass through their national Parliament – is of prime importance. Indeed, the Paris Agreement can only enter into force if it is ratified by a minimum of 55 countries representing at least 55% of greenhouse gases emissions. As China is a top emitter of greenhouse gases, which, along with the United States, represents 38% of global emissions, its role in the enforcement of the Paris Agreement cannot be overstated.

China’s pledge for the Paris Agreement
Unlike with the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005 and only set cuts for developed countries, the developing countries have also pledged to cut their emissions of a certain amount in the Paris Agreement.
China’s decisions were particularly scrutinized for several reasons: firstly, as we’ve seen, they’re unavoidable actors in the fight against global warming. Second, their use of coal power plants for heating purposes was widely criticized, as it gained in visibility through the extremely serious case of air pollution in Beijing.

China is still hugely dependent on fossil energies: it’s one of the top producer, exporter and consumer of coal: it has consumed 4.2 billion tones in the year of 2013 alone. It is the source of approximatively 66% of Chinese electricity, according to the Chinese National Energy Administration. This coal production has been fast growing for years: from 2000 to 2013, it has been multiplied by three.

China has thus pledged a cut of 60% of its emissions in the Paris Agreement and has promised to shut down all coal facilities which would not comply with today’s energy saving standards by 2020. 

China’s expansion process of the coal industry condemned by Greenpeace
Despite this pledge, production and consumption of coal continues and is still growing, according to a recent report of Greenpeace. China is indeed planning new coal energy plants, which would cost roughly 1 trillion yuan -150 billion of dollars-, in the next five years. In particular, it has been denounced by the organization for “wastefully” building a 200 gigawatts of coal-fired power capacity plant. 

This planning would represent an overcapacity in the coal industry which would seriously negatively affect the emissions of the country, erase all idea of respecting their pledge in the Paris Agreement and slow down all efforts of transitioning towards cleaner energies, as Greenpeace coal campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta stated.

Furthermore, it could also amplify lingering tensions between ethnic communities: an excess in coal energy would imply a water strain which would impact the ethnic minorities living on the border. As Greenpeace stated in its report, “The western coal bases are also among the most water-stressed areas in the country”. Indeed, the plants inner Mongolia have led to disputes with displaced Mongolian herders ; and a rarefication of water in Xinjiang, an area dominated by the Uighur, the Muslim minority of China, whose military control water use in the region, effectively creating tensions with the community.

Despite all this, China has also been a pioneer in green energy. For instance, public lobbying by the wind industry have allowed this form of clean energy to develop and gain in importance in the country. Though China seems to have underestimated its need in the coal energy in its Paris pledge, we’ll hope it will be able to focus on its transition towards cleaner energies.

Léa Guinet, coordinator of projects at CIPADH



Andrew Follett,"Greenpeace shocked China is putting another $150 billion into coal power", The Daily Caller News Foundation, 13th July 2016. Avalaible at:

David Stanway, "China building 200 GW of coal-fired power despite capacity glut: Greenpeace", Reuters, 12th July 2016. Available at: 

Lucy Homby, "Greenpeace warns over China's excess power capacity", FT, 13th July 2016. Available at: 

COP21 report on China's pledge, available at: 

Greenpeace, "Study on Economics of Coal-Fired Power Generation Projects in China Report", 28th April 2016. Available at: