Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Greens are starting to comment that China’s climate “leadership” seems to involve enormous investments in coal. But history suggests there is a solution to China’s growing PR problem.
Can China actually lead on climate change?
By Sam Geall
China is in the “driving seat” when it comes to “international co-operation” on climate, said President Xi Jinping at a major political meeting in Beijing ahead of the UN-led climate talks in Bonn last week, the first annual meeting of the negotiations since President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the agreement.
So, is China ready to lead on climate? Not yet.
Fossil fuel use maintains social stability
To assume a real leadership role, China needs not only to fulfil its Paris pledges — no small challenge, given the difficulty of shifting its huge economy away from a reliance on coal-fired energy — but also to demonstrate a strategy for overseas investment that is consistent with its environmental ambitions.
On the international front, as China’s energy-intensive sectors slow, there is a risk that companies such as those producing the technology to mine and burn coal find an escape valve for overcapacity by exporting capital and technology outside China’s borders, driving carbon-intensive growth in other countries, particularly along the so-called “Belt and Road” trade routes in central, south and South-East Asia.
From 2000 to 2016, 66 per cent of power sector lending from Chinese banks went into coal projects, according to Boston University.
In Turkey, Chinese companies have signed agreements worth billions of dollars to construct coal-fired power stations.
In Pakistan, China has also approved a US$1.2 billion investment for coal mining in the Thar Desert and the construction of 660 megawatt coal-fired power generators.
The solution is obvious.
In 2006, Al Gore’s PR people justified his $30,000 annual home electricity bill, his enormous personal carbon footprint, on the basis of all the green advocacy he performs and the carbon offsets he purchases.
If China splashes more money on purchasing carbon offsets and other green projects, and continues to vocally support the global climate movement, greens will in my opinion likely apply the same standards as they applied to Al Gore – they will likely judge that China has done enough to mitigate the harm caused by their coal investments.