China vows to stop funding new overseas coal projects

When faced with climate responsibility at the national level, many citizens fall back on the same argument: “But what about China? It’s a line that will be familiar to anyone who has advocated for renewable energy or low carbon policies. This answer has basically just been blown out of the water.

In his statement to the United Nations General Assembly Yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping uttered a single sentence that prompted climate activists and advocates around the world to do a double take: overseas coal-fired power projects.

That’s right, no new smut. It could have an impact 40 gigawatts of coal projects currently in pre-construction, according to the E3G think tank.

Xi’s engagement follows similar announcements earlier this year from Japan and South Korea. The Guardian reports that the three countries – China, Japan and South Korea – collectively “were responsible for more than 95% of all foreign funding for coal-fired power plants, with China making up the bulk.” China alone finances more than 70% of the world’s coal-fired power plants, according to Green Belt and Route Initiative.

“We’ve been talking to China for some time about this. And I am absolutely delighted to hear that President Xi has taken this important decision, ”US climate envoy John Kerry said in a statement on Tuesday. “It’s a great contribution. It’s a good start for the efforts we need to be successful in Glasgow.

Political declarations can often play out a bit quickly and with definitions. And almost everyone who commented on this yesterday said they would wait and see what China means by “new.” There is also the fact that this commitment, which is expected to impact investments of $ 50 billion in projects in Asia and Africa, does not take into account domestic coal: China’s national coal program to increase. But the fact that China, the world’s largest funder of new coal capacity, is signaling a new path is a much-needed beacon of hope in this often frustrating struggle.

Ketan Joshi, an Australian renewable energy expert and author of Windfall, took to Twitter to highlight how revolutionary this could be:

Meanwhile, Michael Davidson, an academic who studies decarbonization policy in China, has offered well-deserved credit to those who have worked hard to make this happen, both inside and outside the country. China.

The catastrophic and deadly flood that China faced just a few months ago is a factor that may play a role in this news. After all, early-stage climate negotiations in previous decades have been, and rightly so, hampered by historic inequalities in emissions. We are now faced with a situation where the very urgency of the crisis may focus the need for action by all parties. This, combined with rapidly falling renewable energy costs, may well change the equation of where China chooses to invest its money in the future.

A climate story about China isn’t just a story about China these days: it’s about the direction the whole world is heading. That’s why some of the people who celebrated this strongest change were organizations like Groundworks, which seek to promote environmental justice. on the African continent. Here’s how they described the news in a report, delivered from 3e African Coal Conference which coincided with the announcement:

“The meeting sees this as a victory for the thousands of community activists in Lamu, Kenya; Sengwa and Hwange, Zimbabwe; Ekumfi, Ghana; Senegal; San Pedro, Ivory Coast; Makhado, South Africa and the many other sites here and in the Global South that have challenged their governments and China, and said no to coal. ”

They were careful, however, not to let China off the hook for its broader economic policies and impact on vulnerable communities, both in Africa and beyond. The statement ends with an unequivocal demand that China step up and choose a different path than previous world powers:

“We call on China to be a responsible partner in supporting a renewable phase in Africa, especially one that will first meet the basic needs of the people instead of the large mining and foundry companies on the continent. We insist that the next generation of solar, wind, pumped storage and tidal power be based on democratically managed and socially owned energy, rather than on the extractivist and privatized nature of the fossil fuel industry that has ruined so many parts of Africa and the world through its undemocratic war against people and their environment.

There is indeed still a lot of work to be done and there are still a lot of unknowns in this equation. There are probably also a lot of responsibilities to be demanded. But yesterday was unequivocally a good day for those of us who would like to see the world take a different path.

Now let’s keep pushing to make sure that happens.

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Michael J. Birnbaum

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