China doubles down on coal plants abroad despite carbon pledge at home

Beijing, China: Despite Beijing's announced goal of reducing carbon emissions, China will continue to finance multibillion-dollar coal plants in developing countries, a top climate official said Tuesday.

According to the UK-based monitor CarbonBrief, China opened three-quarters of the world's newly financed coal plants in 2020 and accounted for more than 80% of newly announced coal power projects.

However, at home, President Xi Jinping has promised to wean China off coal by 2030, with a peak carbon emissions deadline of 2030, and to achieve carbon neutrality thirty years later.

These lofty goals have received international acclaim.

However, China's overseas push demonstrates the complexities of decoupling the economic drivers of coal power from environmental concerns.

"We cannot simply say that we'll stop supporting coal-fired electricity plants in developing countries," Li Gao, head of the climate change office at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, told reporters.

"Combating climate change is also about letting people in developing countries live good lives."

Li, echoing Xi's remarks at a recent climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden, stated that poorer countries still need coal to power their economies.

"This is wholly in response to (foreign countries') actual needs, and we use very high standards (to build the plants)," 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 electricity.

China is the world's leading polluter, accounting for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

It has also continued to finance hundreds of coal plants in countries ranging from Zimbabwe to Indonesia, which activists claim would generate more emissions than major developed nations.

China is pursuing overseas coal as part of its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, a strategy to finance infrastructure projects and expand its global impact.

In comparison, policymakers have vowed to "strictly monitor" domestic coal use in order to meet aggressive climate targets.

China still gets just under 60% of its power from coal, but a new five-year national development plan unveiled in March set a goal of producing 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

According to Li, China will continue to develop smaller-scale coal plants to ensure a stable power supply across the grid, but their "emissions will be lower" than conventional coal plants.

"We will no longer continue large-scale development of coal-fired power plants, this is very clear."

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