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Chinese coal production

A bulldozer is operated at a coal production site. On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the country will no longer fund coal projects overseas. (Photo: Rizwan Tabassum TABASSUM/AFP via Getty Images)

'Huge Step Forward': China Applauded for Pledge to Stop Building Overseas Coal Plants

"The writing is on the wall for coal power," said the president of upcoming climate summit COP26.

Julia Conley

Following Chinese President Xi Jinping's announcement late Tuesday that the country will end its financing of overseas coal projects, climate action advocates applauded the "huge step forward" into a future with far fewer carbon emissions—while pushing China to commit to further action.
 
In a pre-recorded address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Xi said China is focused on fostering "new growth drivers in the post-Covid era and jointly achieve leapfrog development, staying committed to harmony between man and nature."

"China's pledge to scale up support to green energy is also a show of great commitment that will inject much needed momentum in the pursuit of a just transition in developing nations mostly vulnerable to the climate crisis."
—Landry Ninteretse, 350Africa.org

 
As such, he said, "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."
 
The move will significantly cut down on financing of coal projects in the Global South, where civil society groups and climate experts have protested the pollution-causing activity for years.
 
South Korea and Japan both announced earlier this year their own plans to end coal financing abroad. Along with China, the countries have been behind more than 95% of all foreign funding for coal-fired power plants. The Bank of China has been the largest single international coal funder in recent years, spending $35 billion on projects since 2015.
 
"China was the last man standing," Justin Guay, director of global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project, told The Guardian. "If there's no public finance of coal from China, there's little to no global coal expansion."
 
The end of overseas financing from the state-run bank is a clear sign that "the writing is on the wall for coal power," said British politician Alok Sharma, who is serving as the president of this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26).
 
 
At the conference, Sharma said, world leaders must step up efforts and "consign coal to history."
 
Climate analyst Ketan Joshi expressed wariness of "loopholes" that may come with China's pledge, but acknowledged Xi's announcement as "a very big deal."
 

A crucial step towards doing away with coal production—the largest source of planet-heating carbon emissions—would be the end of domestic coal projects in China, said a number of observers.

Xi's announcement at the UNGA "is further evidence China knows the future is paved by renewables," Thom Woodruffe, a fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, told The Guardian. "The key question now is when they will draw a similar line in the sand at home."

Within its own borders, China put nearly 40 gigawatts of new coal-fired power in operation last year—more than three times the amount it financed overseas.

Xi's announcement Tuesday was "a really big deal," tweeted climate scientist Dr. Zeke Hausfather, but it remains "imperative that China stop financing new domestic coal plants."

Even after ending financing for overseas coal projects, China will remain the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and is the world's largest coal producer. Without a sharp reduction in the country's domestic emissions in the next decade, the world is unlikely to limit global heating to 1.5C, The Guardian reported.

According to the London-based climate analysis firm TransitionZero, to meet China's own goal of reaching net zero emissions domestically by 2060 would require the country to shut down nearly 600 of its coal-fired power plants in the next 10 years.
 
Organizations in some of the countries where China has financed coal production celebrated Xi's announcement, noting that communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis—who have done little to contribute to the heating of the planet—will benefit.
 

"This move will scale down fossil fuels in the continent, and limit harmful impacts of coal that are already being felt in parts of the continent," said Landry Ninteretse of 350Africa.org. "China is paving the way for other governments that continue to venture into deadly fossil fuel projects to stop them and instead accelerate plans to phase out coal, end public finance for oil and gas and implement a just transition based on renewable energy for the continent."

"China’s pledge to scale up support to green energy is also a show of great commitment that will inject much needed momentum in the pursuit of a just transition in developing nations mostly vulnerable to the climate crisis," added Ninteretse.

Coal Free Nigeria Coalition called on African policymakers "to position themselves to benefit from the renewable energy finance promised by the Chinese government."

While applauding the "positive political statement by China," Michael Terungwa of Coal Free Nigeria Coalition emphasized that "charity begins at home."

"The Chinese government should not finance or build coal plants in China and should begin the process of decommissioning coal plants abroad. In China, they should also set a plan in motion, for a just transition to renewable energy," said Terungwa.


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