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Why Heat Waves Are Deepening China’s Addiction to Coal

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China has an answer to the heat waves now affecting much of the Northern Hemisphere: burn more coal to maintain a stable electricity supply for air-conditioning.

Even before this year, China was emitting almost a third of all energy-related greenhouse gases — more than the United States, Europe and Japan combined. China burns more coal every year than the rest of the world combined. Last month, China generated 14 percent more electricity than it did in June 2022, and the whole increase was generated by coal-fired plants.

China’s ability to ramp up coal usage in recent weeks is the result of a huge national campaign over the past two years to expand coal mines and build more coal-fired power plants. State media celebrated the industriousness of the 1,000 workers who toiled without vacations this spring to finish one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants in southeastern China in time for summer.

The paradox of China’s energy policy is that the country also leads the world in installing renewables. It dominates most of the global supply chain for clean energy — from…

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