22 September 2021
Cogito Ergo Non Serviam
The People's Republic of China is the largest source of carbon emissions in the world, accounting for about 28% of the global total. In a step forward to attacking the problem of more carbon in the air, the ChiComs have vowed to end funding for coal-fired power plants outside the PRC. President Xi himself said so in a video speech to the United Nations General Assembly, "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." It is a start.
The so-called Belt and Road Initiative, an attempt by China to revive the trade along the old Silk Road, has China making significant investments in transportation, energy and related projects across East Asia and the Middle East. This effort appears to be sputtering along, but the abandonment of coal-fired plants to help power it might actually be to China's long-term benefit. Infrastructure that is greener and cleaner than coal is also poised to be cheaper. Pulling the plug on coal-fired plants outside of China is a PR win as well.
Nevertheless, China's addiction to coal in its own economy remains powerful. Half of the coal burned at present is burned in China. According to Reuters, "Including decommissions, China's coal-fired fleet capacity rose by a net 29.8 GW in 2020, even as the rest of the world made cuts of 17.2 GW, according to research released on Wednesday by Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a U.S. think tank, and the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA)."
"The runaway expansion of coal-fired power is driven by electricity companies' and local governments' interest in maximising investment spending, more than a real need for new capacity," said Lauri Myllyvirta, CREA lead analyst.
Thus, the Chinese reliance on coal is more political than economic. Keeping the coal-miners, local authorities and electric companies happy is not going to be easy if the PRC is going to abandon coal in the long run.
The BBC notes that in his speech, "Mr Xi mentioned promises made last year about China achieving peak emissions before 2030 and then transitioning to carbon neutrality by 2060." That is almost certainly not quick enough to prevent global warming to exceed 2 degrees C. However, the goal is there, and acceleration of time-tables is always possible.
If anyone in China can pull this off, it is President Xi. He has more power than any leader since Mao, and he understands that something must be done. Transitioning from coal to renewables is in China's long-term interests (such a transition is in the interest of every nation on Earth). So, the path is clearly marked. The question is how he plans to pull it off.
This journal has no love for the Chinese Communists nor does it particularly like Mr. Xi's style, objectives and methods. None of that is relevant here. The world needs China to stop burning coal, and without China, what the rest of the world can make little progress. Thanks to China, the world increased the amount of power generated by coal by 12.6 GW last year. If China had built half as much coal capacity, the total would have declined. China is that important. Consequently, this announcement is a start.
© Copyright 2021 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.