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Asia Builds up Coal Despite Falling Demands

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Coal power plant building will continue in Asia despite falling electricity demand and environmental concerns. Experts say the move comes as governments try to help economies hurt by the coronavirus crisis.

In a report last month, the International Energy Agency said that demand for electricity will decrease this year due to lockdowns.

The United Nations and other organizations say the decrease creates a rare chance for Asia to launch a "green recovery." But there are already signs that China and other countries like South Korea and Japan will spend money to help struggling companies and suppliers in the coal business.

Matt Gray works for Carbon Tracker, an organization that looks at the risks of fossil fuels. "China and other governments may be tempted to invest in coal power to help their economies recover after the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "This risks locking in high-cost coal power that will undermine global climate targets."

China produces and uses about half of the world's coal. It recently sped up the building of five coal power plants and permitted more buildings to start in 2023. In April, China also imported 22 percent more coal than it did a year earlier.

As coal industries in Japan and South Korea face pressure to reduce emissions in their own countries, they are expected to continue to build coal plants in developing countries like Vietnam and Indonesia.

The global long-term outlook for coal power, however, is not good.

Governments, banks and energy companies - under public and investor pressure - are dropping investments in fossil fuel. Many see coal power as the greatest risk to the 2015 Paris Agreement. The goal of the agreement is to limit global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

That goal already looks out of reach, environmental experts say, partly because of new coal plants being built in Asia. It is the biggest energy-consuming region and largest growth market.

The Global Energy Monitor says about 500 gigawatts of coal power capacity is planned or being built around the world, and more than 80 percent of that is in Asia. Even a small number of new plants will increase CO2 emissions and drive demand for coal mining in places like Australia and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, there is bad news in the short term for renewable energy. Wood Mackenzie estimates 150 gigawatts of wind and solar projects across the Asia Pacific region could be delayed or cancelled over the next five years.

I'm John Russell.

Joe Brock reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

Words in This Story

fossil fuel – n.a fuel (such as coal, oil, or natural gas) that is formed in the earth from dead plants or animals

tempt – v. to cause (someone) to do or want to do something even though it may be wrong, bad, or unwise

pandemic – n. medical: an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

emission – n. the act of producing or sending out something (such as energy or gas) from a source

global warming – n. the increase in the world's temperature that is believed to be caused by the increase of certain gases (such as carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere

renewable – adj. restored or replaced by natural processes : able to be replaced by nature

solar – adj. always used before a noun of or relating to the sun\

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