China says it will stop building coal-fired power plants abroad, but its commitment to combat climate change still has major problems

Chinese President Xi Jinping On Tuesday, his country will stop funding the construction of coal-fired power plants in other countries.

“China will increase its support for other developing countries to develop green and low-carbon energy, and will not build coal power projects overseas,” Xi Jinping said in a video broadcast by the United Nations General Assembly.

But as the world is about to hold an important UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland in November this year, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases has been tepid in its climate action.

Although they welcomed Xi Jinping’s statement, environmental activists said that China-the world’s largest country with 1.4 billion people and the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases-must act more actively. In particular, limit their use of coal and overall carbon emissions.

“I hope this is not the end of Chinese behavior,” Jack Schmidt, senior strategy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Yahoo News. “China needs to come up with stronger ambitions.”

On September 21, 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a video at the 76th UN General Assembly General Debate in Beijing, the capital of China. (Huang Jingwen/Xinhua News Agency, Getty Images)

China is basically the last major provider of international investment in new coal-fired power plants. Experts estimate that this move may result in the cancellation of enough coal-fired power plants to save the equivalent of one-fifth of the emissions of coal-fired power plants in the United States.

However, at home, China has not reduced its use of coal. In 2019, before the epidemic temporarily reduced economic output and pollution, China accounted for Of global emissions.This year has been announced 43 new coal-fired power plants were built.This is one of the main reasons for the decline in China’s carbon emissions Set a record high earlier this year.

China’s dependence on coal is in stark contrast to the United States and many other industrialized countries, which are moving away from coal as cleaner energy sources become cheaper. Although former President Donald Trump claimed that because of his abolition of environmental regulations, the “coal industry is back”, The New York Times During his tenure, “145 coal-fired units in 75 power plants have been idled, eliminating 15% of the country’s coal-fired power generation capacity.”

For many years, environmental scientists have hoped that China can follow the continued global shift to coal. In November 2014, the year before the last round of UN climate negotiations was held in Paris, Xi Jinping and then U.S. President Barack Obama jointly In Beijing, they will work together to combat climate change and ensure success in Paris. This is a major breakthrough in climate diplomacy, as China has pledged for the first time to set specific emission reduction benchmarks.

Previously, it has argued that it is unfair for developed countries such as the United States, which use fossil fuels to achieve industrialization, to require developing countries to avoid the same path to prosperity.China’s per capita GDP is only 10,500 US dollars, less than one-sixth of the United States

However, part of the reason is that conventional pollution caused by coal and cars suffocates cities, and climate change may have a devastating effect on most of China’s coastal population, so it supports the cause of climate action and encourages other developing countries to do the same.

Tom Woodruff, a researcher at the Asia Society, said: “In the pre-Paris period, it was very difficult even for China to participate in the climate fight.” “When China is willing to join the negotiating table in 2014, this is a signal to the world.”

On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, steam jets out of the cooling tower of the Huaiyin coal-fired power plant in Jiangsu Province, eastern China.  (Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, steam jets out of the cooling tower of the Huaiyin coal-fired power plant in Jiangsu Province, eastern China. (Featured China/Barcroft Media, Getty Images)

China’s commitments made at the Paris meeting were relatively modest—to peak carbon emissions by 2030, and “intended” to obtain one-fifth of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by then—but the optimistic assumption is that it Will increase its ambitions to decline in renewable energy prices.As early as 2016, the US news media reported It is speculated that China’s emissions may have reached a peak.

But its emissions have been climbing, and China has not yet formulated an accelerated timetable to reduce emissions. In April this year, Xi Jinping stated at a global leaders summit convened by Biden that China will reduce coal use starting in 2026. International colleagues and environmentalists who want to take action as soon as possible.

At last year’s UN General Assembly, Xi also China’s goal is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. According to Woodroff, the Asia Society model shows that China will not be able to achieve this goal realistically unless it reaches its emission peak before 2030.Other experts have previously stated If China’s emissions continue to rise for the remainder of this decade, the world will not be able to achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement — controlling the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, with a backup target of 2 degrees Celsius.

Due to the escalating tensions between the two countries on the status of Taiwan and the increasingly fierce military confrontation in the Pacific region, it is unlikely that a joint announcement with the United States will be made soon.

“The idea of ​​issuing a similar announcement on climate issues in 2014 is completely out of the scope of discussion,” Woodruff said. “It’s impossible for this to happen.”

Earlier this month, John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate issues, went to China to seek climate cooperation, but he was unsuccessful. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry that “climate change cannot be separated from the overall situation of Sino-US relations.”

Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to the United States The Washington Post said on Wednesday that Glasgow’s successful outcome “will, as always, depend to a large extent on the contributions of the United States and China.”

Although he is subject to restrictions passed by Congress, Biden is working hard to make these contributions to his country. April, United States A plan to reduce emissions by 50-52% from 2005 levels by 2030. Previously, it only provided 26-28% by 2025.The President is currently promoting the collection Put the country on this path in Congress, such as providing carrots and sticks to energy utility companies to get them out of fossil fuels.On Tuesday, Biden’s United Nations speeches included “Cooperating with Congress” doubles US funding for climate action in developing countries.

US President Joe Biden speaks at the 76th UN General Assembly General Debate at the UN Headquarters in New York on September 21, 2021.  (Wang Ying/Xinhua News Agency, Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden speaks at the 76th UN General Assembly General Debate at the UN Headquarters in New York on September 21, 2021. (Wang Ying/Xinhua News Agency, Getty Images)

Whether China will cooperate with these efforts is still an open question. Woodroff said that China may make stronger commitments, but it is waiting for what other major emitters will provide first. He said the most important thing it can do is to advance the date of its peak emissions and immediately set emission caps to ensure that they do not soar sharply.

In order to break the deadlock, a week after Kerry’s visit, Biden habit. Fan Dai, director of the California-China Climate Research Institute at the University of California, said that on a smaller scale, the climate partnership between the world’s two largest emitters “is still possible, and it may revolve around climate financing or short-term climate pollutants.” Berkeley.

In Glasgow, China may try to play its consistent role as a leader in developing countries, and will advocate for developed countries to provide more climate financing. However, Dai said it may oppose certain attempts to strengthen the agreement.

“[China] Oppose focusing on the 1.5-degree goal; [it] I hope to retain the current more flexible language in the Paris Agreement instead of renegotiating,” Dai said. Since China is a major exporter of manufactured products, it also opposes the “carbon border adjustment mechanism”, which has a negative impact on the EU and its own carbon production. Tariffs are levied on imports from restricted countries.

Focusing on short-term economic expansion is the norm in Chinese politics, as is the tension with the United States. But in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, China will have to rearrange its priorities.

Schmidt said: “The fate of the planet depends on them figuring out how to put aside any differences that may exist and resolve the climate challenge.”

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