Despite Beijing’s announced goal of reducing carbon emissions, China will continue to fund multibillion-dollar coal plants in developing countries, according to a top climate official on Tuesday. According to the UK-based monitor CarbonBrief, China launched three-quarters of the world’s newly financed coal plants in 2020, accounting for more than 80% of newly announced coal power ventures.
At home, President Xi Jinping has vowed to wean China off coal by 2030, with a target of carbon neutrality thirty years later. International acclaim has been heaped on such lofty goals. However, China’s overseas push demonstrates how difficult it is to separate the economic drivers of coal power from environmental issues.
“We can’t just assume we’re going to stop funding coal-fired power plants in developing countries,” Li Gao, the head of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s climate change office, told reporters.
“Combating climate change also means ensuring that people in developed countries have a decent quality of life.”
Li said developing countries would need coal to fuel their economies, echoing Xi’s remarks at a recent climate summit hosted by US Vice President Joe Biden.
“This is entirely in response to (foreign countries’) real needs, and we develop the plants to very high standards,” he said.
Li also said that these countries were not mature enough to be able to rely on renewable energy as their primary source of energy. China is the world’s worst polluter, emitting a third of all greenhouse gases.
It has also continued to finance hundreds of coal plants in other countries, from Zimbabwe to Indonesia, which, according to environmentalists, are on track to generate more emissions than major developed countries. China is pursuing overseas coal as part of its multitrillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to finance infrastructure projects and expand China’s global influence.
Officials, on the other hand, have vowed to “strictly monitor” coal use in the United States in order to meet aggressive climate targets. China still gets about 60% of its electricity from coal, but a new five-year national development plan released in March set a goal of producing 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
According to Li, China will continue to construct smaller-scale coal plants to ensure grid reliability, but their “emissions will not be as high” as conventional coal plants “It is crystal clear that we will no longer pursue large-scale coal-fired power plant production.”