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German economy minister urges China to shift from coal power

German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck visits China

By Maria Martinez

HANGZHOU, China (Reuters) -German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Sunday that China was indispensable to achieving global climate goals and must find a safe alternative to coal, which accounted for nearly 60% of China's electricity supply in 2023.

Officials told Habeck that China was expanding coal production for security reasons, the minister told reporters in the southern city of Hangzhou, the day after meeting Chinese officials in Beijing.

"China also imports large amounts of gas and oil and China has already seen what has happened in Europe and Germany in the last two years," he added, referring to the energy crisis triggered by Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

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He said cooperation with China must be strengthened, adding: "Without China it would not be possible to meet the climate targets globally".

"You don't have to teach them that CO2 emissions are bad for the climate. They've got that," Habeck said, adding that it should be possible to achieve the same level of security with fewer coal-fired power plants.

Later, Habeck told students at the university of Zhejiang that the difficulty lay in integrating variable forms of energy such as wind and solar into a system built to work on more predictable fuels, adding: "That is basically my work."

He said that doubling capacities was "the old way" of doing it, but not the most efficient.

China is expanding its coal production but also installed almost 350 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy capacity in 2023, more than half the global total.

Habeck said extension of the power grid and use of batteries to store energy could reduce the number of traditionally fuelled power plants needed to meet China's needs, adding that economic growth and climate action were not opposites.

"Transforming the economy to a climate-neutral one is not only good for the climate but creates new opportunities for wealth and growth," Habeck said.

(Reporting by Maria Martinez in Hangzhou; Editing by Kevin Liffey)