China's foreign coal push risks global climate goals

China has about 96 billion tons of untapped coal reserves
China has about 96 billion tons of untapped coal reserves

China's plan to fund dozens of foreign coal plants from Zimbabwe to Indonesia is set to produce more emissions than major developed nations, threatening global efforts to fight climate change, environmentalists have warned.

Under the Paris climate deal signed in 2015, China positioned itself as a leader on , and in September President Xi Jinping pledged the country would become by 2060.

But Chinese state-owned firms are investing billions in coal power abroad, which are not counted in the domestic carbon neutral calculations, and which environmentalists say put at risk the Paris accord's goal of keeping to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

"New that would potentially be operating for many years beyond 2030 are fundamentally incompatible with global efforts to contain climate change," said Christine Shearer, head of coal research at the Global Energy Monitor.

The new carbon-belching already under construction will produce 19 gigawatts of power and emit 115 million tonnes each year, data from Boston University's Global Development Policy Center showed.

China has nearly three-times more in the pipeline abroad, meaning its overseas plants would emit more than the current emissions of major economies such as Britain, Turkey and Italy, according to figures in British Petroleum's annual review of global energy.

China plans to fund dozens of foreign coal plants, including Indonesia
China plans to fund dozens of foreign coal plants, including Indonesia

Each of the dozens of plants are expected to have a lifespan of decades.

If completed and operated for 30 years, these plants would emit the equivalent of almost three years of emissions from all coal-fired power plants in China, according to Lauri Myllyvirta, lead Asia analyst with Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

China is making the overseas coal play as part of its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to fund and increase its sway overseas.

Xi has promised to "pursue open, green and clean co-operation" under the Belt and Road plan, yet Chinese banks have continued their financing of coal projects regardless.

Between 2000 and 2018, 23.1 percent of the $251 billion invested by China's two biggest policy banks on overseas energy projects was spent on coal projects, according to Boston University's database on China's global energy financing.

The foreign plants the Chinese firms are currently building include the $3 billion Sengwa power plant in Zimbabwe—one of the largest in Africa.

China is advancing plans to build the new carbon-belching power stations abroad as part of its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Ini
China is advancing plans to build the new carbon-belching power stations abroad as part of its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative

There are also at least eight projects in Pakistan, including a $2 billion plant in the restive region of Balochistan.

The new projects are all in countries that have signed up to the Belt and Road plan, locking them into a coal-consuming energy future.

The flood of coal cash is "hampering efforts by developing nations to switch to cleaner alternatives," said Li Shuo from Greenpeace China, and that risks "derailing the Paris accord".

Home and away

At home, China has about 96 billion tons of untapped coal reserves—the fourth largest in the world.

The surplus has pushed Chinese power companies into hungry nations in South and Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America.

"It is a way to provide markets for companies and services that the country itself increasingly does not need," said Lauri Myllyvirta, China analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

There are at least eight projects in Pakistan, including a $2 billion plant in the restive region of Balochistan
There are at least eight projects in Pakistan, including a $2 billion plant in the restive region of Balochistan

However there are some glimmers of hope.

China's environment ministry last month commissioned a report evaluating the environmental impact of China's Belt and Road plan, which proposed a colour-coded classification of Beijing's projects abroad.

If implemented, it would require more stringent financing of plants, which would be flagged as red under the system to signal the potential for irreversible environmental damage.

Several countries subject to Chinese investment in coal plants have also moved to close projects in recent years.

Kenya, Egypt and Bangladesh have all nixed or announced plans to cancel new plants due to environmental or economic concerns.

Myllyvirta said that, as more countries announce carbon phase-out plans, only a quarter of China's planned plants would come online.


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© 2020 AFP

Citation: China's foreign coal push risks global climate goals (2020, December 10) retrieved 18 April 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2020-12-china-foreign-coal-global-climate.html
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