China puts an end to new overseas coal plant projects

A coal-burning power plant can be seen behind a factory in the city of Baotou, in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Photo credit: Reuters / David Gray.

By Anders Lorenzen

With just over a month to go to COP26 at the time of the announcement, the world’s biggest emitter, China, last month, pledged not to fund any new overseas coal projects.

The president of China, Xi Jinping, sought to silence the criticism directed at his country’s climate commitments when he pledged that China would not build any new coal-fired power plants abroad.

However, the Chinese leader provided little detail on how and when the policy will be implemented and what it would mean for coal projects already in the planning. Jinping was also silent on what many climate advocates wanted to know; whether there would be a change in policy for coal power plants inside China.

Following in the footsteps of South Korea and Japan

But nevertheless, China’s move has been welcomed as the country had been under heavy diplomatic pressure to end coal financing overseas. China’s move follows that of South Korea and Japan earlier this year.

“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,” Jinping said.

The announcement was welcomed by both the president of COP26 Alok Sharma, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the US Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry.

Diminishing demand

Some experts have argued that the Chinese ending of coal-financing abroad is low-hanging fruit and an easy climate move to make, especially as demand has significantly reduced due to the pandemic.

The think tank Global Energy Monitor (GEM) has calculated that the move could affect 44 coal plants earmarked for Chinese state financing.

China has said there have been no changes in their pledges from last year which stated that they would achieve a peak in CO2 emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060; goals which many experts have said are not ambitious enough.

China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and is still heavily reliant on coal for its domestic energy needs.

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