China plans to stop building new coal-fired power plants in other nations, threatening to wipe out one of the last sources of international funding for the dirtiest fossil fuel.
President Xi Jinping made the announcement during the United Nations General Assembly meeting on Tuesday, a year after he surprised world leaders by pledging to make China carbon neutral by 2060.
“China will step up support to other developing countries in low-carbon and green energy development, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad,” Xi said in a prerecorded video. It has been under pressure to back its long-term climate goals with concrete short-term goals.
The move could hamper the future development of coal. More than 70% of all coal plants built today depend on Chinese financing, according to the Beijing-based International Institute of Green Finance. The China Belt and Road Initiative for overseas development projects did not fund any coal projects in the first half of this year, the first time that has happened.
“This is a big step forward,” Manish Bapna, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “This opens the door for bolder climate ambition from China and other key countries, at home and abroad.”
Earlier Tuesday, US President Joe Biden pledged at the UN to double the amount of money the US will spend to help the poorest nations fight climate change. And Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose nation is one of the few that has not ratified the Paris climate accord, said his parliament will work to approve the landmark accord next month.
Xi’s coal promise comes as China has tried to wrest the initiative from the United States as the Biden administration grapples with the consequences of its hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Last week, China requested to join an Asia-Pacific trade pact once pushed by the Obama administration as a way to isolate Beijing and solidify US dominance in the region. Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement, officially known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, in 2017.
Xi’s speech also pointed to Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, although he did not name the country by name. “Recent events in the world situation show once again that military intervention from abroad and the so-called democratic transformation does nothing but harm,” Xi said.
The Chinese leader also drew an implicit distinction between China’s policies and the Biden administration’s commitment to pursue “extreme competition” with Beijing. Xi reiterated his position that differences between countries be handled on the basis of “equality and mutual respect” and urged countries to defend multilateralism.
As the world’s most populous nation and the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, China can do more than any other country to help the planet avoid the worst effects of climate change. US climate envoy John Kerry and Alok Sharma, the UK host’s contact man for the COP, visited China in recent weeks in search of new green commitments. China has argued that developed nations must do more to reduce their own pollution, while raising more funds to help poorer countries decarbonize.
Countries have been trying to produce an agreement to phase out coal power ahead of the United Nations-backed climate talks in order to uphold the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5ºC from pre-industrial levels to scope. China’s coal consumption is about to hit a record this year.
Xi’s announcement injects new hope into the Glasgow talks, which are shaping up to be a challenge. Delegates have expressed concern that the tension between the United States and China could hurt progress on issues ranging from raising emissions reduction targets to tackling methane leaks.
China is still in the process of developing an official roadmap to phase out emissions. The nation’s plan for the next five years aims to reduce carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 18% by 2025 and reduce energy use per unit of GDP by 13.5%. It also included plans to boost non-fossil fuels to 20% of energy use by then.
© 2021 Bloomberg