2021-09-21 22:34:01 China Won’t Build More Coal Plants Abroad, Xi Jinping Says

China Won’t Build More Coal Plants Abroad, Xi Jinping Says

On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly that his country would stop promoting the growth of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel overseas, in a major step toward addressing climate change: He stated that China “will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.”

Mr. Xi’s announcement, made in prerecorded remarks, was a surprise move designed to boost his country’s standing in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

China currently accounts for the lion’s share of emissions. It is by far the largest domestic coal producer and the largest financier of coal-fired power plants abroad, with an enormous 40 gigatonnes of coal power planned.

Earlier this year, there was a hint of a shift in China. China did not fund new coal projects as part of its global development initiative known as the Belt and Road Initiative in the first six months of 2021 for the first time in several years.

Chinese coal projects have faced significant opposition in countries such as Bangladesh, Kenya, and Vietnam, primarily from civil society groups.

The US has repeatedly chastised China for assisting in the construction of coal plants in other countries. On Tuesday, there was no immediate response from the White House.

Mr. Xi did not say anything about China’s domestic coal plants at the General Assembly. It is constructing the largest fleet of coal-fired power plants within its borders, and the majority of its electricity is still generated by coal. Mr. Xi also made no new announcements about China’s plans to reduce emissions by 2030, other than repeating his pledge to reach peak emissions by the end of this decade. That is nowhere near what is required to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, beyond which the world faces a much higher risk of catastrophic climate consequences.

“This is an important step by the world’s largest provider of overseas coal finance,” said Simon Steill, the environment minister of Grenada, one of the world’s smallest countries most vulnerable to climate change. “We look forward to seeing comparable action on coal in the United States.”

The largest source of carbon dioxide emissions is coal combustion, and after a pandemic-year decline, demand for coal is expected to rise 4.5 percent this year, primarily to meet soaring electricity demand, according to the International Energy Agency.

In almost every global speech he has given on climate change, his signature issue, UN Secretary General António Guterres has called for a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants.

Coal is at a crossroads on a global scale.

In 2019, spending on coal projects fell to its lowest level in a decade. In addition, over the last two decades, more coal-fired power plants have been retired or decommissioned than have been built.

Plans for new coal-fired power plants have been shelved (as in South Africa), reconsidered (as in Bangladesh), or are facing funding difficulties in some countries where new coal-fired power plants were only recently being built by the gigatonne (as in Vietnam). Existing coal plants in India are operating at far below capacity and losing money. They are being decommissioned quickly in the United States.

Mr. Xi’s announcement was described as a “really big step” by Jake Schmidt, senior strategic adviser for international climate issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a research and advocacy organization.

“China has come under a lot of scrutiny,” he said. “It cannot be the leading financier of overseas coal plants if it wants to be a climate leader.”

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China Won’t Build More Coal Plants Abroad, Xi Jinping Says