China vows to reduce emissions but is still bankrolling coal worldwide

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers the keynote speech at the second Belt to Road Forum in Beijing last week. Photo: Xinhua

This past weekend Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing which promoted China’s foreign policy initiatives of supporting massive infrastructure projects within its partner countries. The forum was attended by heads of state from nations who are hungry for Chinese investment despite that previous projects funded by China were marred by controversy and there’s growing criticism of the environmental impact of many of these investments. Some of these ventures include, as NPR reported, hundreds of electric power plants that burn coal, which is a significant emitter of the carbon scientifically linked to climate change. So even if China is working to decrease coal and expand renewables within its own borders, it’s still investing in dirty energy around the world.

More from NPR:

  • China is building or planning more than 300 coal plants in places as widely spread as Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt and the Philippines.
  • Days before the forum with its “clean and green” theme, the latest Chinese-built coal plant opened in Pakistan.
  • China’s push for coal is not surprising: China knows how to build coal plants. It is the world’s largest coal consumer, drawing more than 70 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As The Diplomat explained, overseas, “Chinese financial institutions are involved in a quarter of all coal power plant capacity under development. Much of this funding goes under the banner of the “Belt and Road.” While the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is technology-agnostic, funding for energy has been dominated by coal: From 2014 to 2017, China spent $51 billion on power projects under the BRI, 36 percent of which went to coal projects and 11 percent to solar and wind.”

Why This Matters: While China has vowed to shut down coal plants at home some experts worry this progress is negated by the nation’s fossil fuel investments. Additionally, as more Chinese coal plants are shuttered, Chinese engineers and construction workers must somehow be kept employed and are seeking work abroad building fossil fuel infrastructure funded by their nation’s banks. Coal is a major contributor to climate change as well as air and water pollution and new coal plants have a useful life of about 30 years, so once they’re built there’s going to be an incentive to use them. While China has previously signaled its intent to limit investment in coal and to green its Belt to Road Initiative, it hasn’t formally taken steps to do so. 

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