China’s coal decision biggest move to cut global warming


Coal unloaded from the Bulk China freighter that delivered 168,000 metric tons of anthracite to Yuzhny port in Odessa.

Photo credit: Denis Petrov | AFP

China’s pledge to stop building new coal energy plants abroad was perhaps the biggest and most practical commitment by world leaders to upstage climate change at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

It is a radical move to effect the longstanding aspiration to roll out more green development programmes under Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Imitative project. In the first half of 2021, China did not commit any finances to new coal projects abroad; pointing to the veracity of the resolve to help the world cut back carbon emissions and reduce global temperature rises.

The significance of the pledge could be gleamed from the many positive messages that have come from world leaders and climate change mitigation champions. 

The US Climate Envoy John Kerry said he was absolutely delighted by the important decision; while Alok Sharma, head of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference termed the announcement as an important outcome of his consultations with Chinese officials.

Coal is estimated to contribute up to 40 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Any concrete effort to reduce its use around the world is therefore a step in the right direction in addressing the debilitating effects of global warming. Africa has particularly been hard hit by consequences of climate change.

Changing rainfall patterns

Changing rainfall patterns has affected agricultural productivity in the continent leading to reduced food security while exacerbating other socioeconomic fragilities. It is on this background that Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta nudged UNGA to promote climate financial support to developing countries through avenues like green manufacturing.    

The decision to reduce its coal footprints abroad adds to China’s earlier commitments including reprieving carbon dioxide emissions before 2030, and achieving chief carbon neutrality before 2060.  With Beijing’s green energy sector outstripping the fossil fuels industry in terms of growth, there is every indication that China could easily meet its carbon targets.

The Global Wind Energy Council reports that 60.4 GW of new wind capacity was installed around the world in 2019; China installed 71.67 Gigawatt (GW) of wind power capacity, nearly tripling the 2019 baseline, according to the National Energy Administration in 2020 alone.

China’s world beating solar capacity of 253 GW at the end of 2020, coupled with massive investments in the renewable energy sector  has prompted the government to project its share of non- fossil fuels in its primary energy consumption to rise to 25 per cent by 2030.

Outside its borders, Chinese companies have often come against accusations of fueling environmental erosion in the countries they operate. As a response, in July 2021, China’s Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Environment and Ecology jointly released new guidelines aimed at helping Chinese enterprises investing overseas to improve environmental sustainability of construction projects.

Climate mitigation

Other recent climate mitigation initiatives by China include the inauguration of a South-South Climate Cooperation Fund which is supporting establishment of low-carbon industrial parks in developing countries. Alongside its climate mitigation and adaptation programs, 34 countries around the world have so far benefited from the Fund.

Even as Beijing takes the issue of coal head-on at home and abroad, President Xi also made a commitment to help developing countries muster more clean energy sources as economies seek to rebuild from the impacts of Covid-19 global pandemic. In Africa, for instance, China is the biggest partner in driving the uptake of renewable energies. Availability of safe and reliable energy is a key plank in hoisting African economies back to the growth path.

According to the International Energy Agency, 578 million people still lack power connectivity in the continent. Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency indicates that between 2009 and 2018, China helped upgrade solar capacity in Africa from 739 to 5,500 Megawatts while wind energy installations during the same period jumped from a paltry 108 to 6, 100 Megawatts.

Certainly, more efforts are needed to steer the planet towards a more livable habitat. Besides new climate targets by countries, a strong push for a multilateral climate undertaking is critical to reversing the harmful effects of climate change.

 Twitter: @Cavinceworld 


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