China plans to stop building new coal-fired power plants abroad

Xi’s announcemnet means funding sources for global coal projects may be drying up

China’s president Xi Jinping: tells UN general assembly China will bolster support to help poorer nations develop clean energy. Photograph: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

China’s president Xi Jinping: tells UN general assembly China will bolster support to help poorer nations develop clean energy. Photograph: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

 

China plans to stop building new coal-fired power plants abroad and will bolster support to help poorer nations develop clean energy, President Xi Jinping said during the United Nations general assembly meeting on Tuesday.

The announcement came a year after Xi surprised world leaders by pledging to make China carbon-neutral by 2060 after reaching peak emissions by the end of the decade. He has come under pressure to back up that promise with concrete short-term goals ahead of global climate talks, known as COP26, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

“China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad,” Xi said in a prerecorded video.

Xi’s announcement means one of the last sources of funding for global coal projects may be drying up. More than 70 per cent of all coal plants built today rely on Chinese funding, according to the Beijing-based International Institute of Green Finance. China’s belt and road initiative for overseas development projects didn’t fund any coal projects in the first half of this year, the first time that has happened.

Earlier on Tuesday, US president Joe Biden pledged at the UN to double the amount of money the US will spend helping poorer nations fight climate change. And Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose nation is one of the few that hasn’t ratified the Paris climate agreement, said his parliament will work toward approving the landmark accord next month.

Pledge

Xi’s coal pledge comes as China has sought to wrest the initiative from the US as the Biden administration struggles with the fallout from its rushed Afghanistan withdrawal.

Last week, China applied to join an Asia-Pacific trade pact once pushed by the the Obama administration as a way to isolate Beijing and solidify American dominance in the region. Former president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal, known officially as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, in 2017.

Xi’s speech also took aim at Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal, though he didn’t name the country by name. “Recent developments in the global situation show once again that military intervention from the outside and so-called democratic transformation entail nothing but harm,” Xi said.

The Chinese leader also drew an implicit distinction between China’s policies and the Biden administration’s pledge to pursue “extreme competition” with Beijing. Xi repeated his position that differences between countries be handled on the basis of “equality and mutual respect” and urged countries to uphold multilateralism.

Top emitter

As the world’s most populous nation and top greenhouse gas emitter, China can do more than any other country to help the planet avoid the worst effects of climate change. US climate envoy John Kerry and Alok Sharma, the UK host’s point man for COP, visited China in recent weeks seeking new green commitments. China has argued that developed nations need to do more to cut their own pollution, while raising more funds to help poorer countries decarbonise.

Countries have been trying to produce an agreement to phase out coal power before the UN-backed climate talks in order to keep the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels within reach. China’s coal consumption is poised to hit a record this year.

Xi’s announcement injects new hope into the Glasgow talks, which have been shaping up to be challenging. Delegates have expressed concern that tension between the US and China could hurt progress on issues from raising emission reduction targets to tackling methane leaks.

China is still in the process of developing an official roadmap to zero out emissions. The nation’s plan for the next five years aims to reduce carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 18 per cent through 2025 and cut energy use per unit of GDP by 13.5 per cent. It also included plans to boost non-fossil fuels to 20 per cent of energy use by then. – Bloomberg