The Chinese path to supposed decarbonization starts with a lot more coal
By Duggan Flanakin
You have to hand it to Xi Jinping. The Chinese “president for life” schmoozed United Nations royalty last September with his unexpected pledge that his country aims “to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality (Net Zero) before 2060.”
Xi also urged other nations “to pursue innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all” through rapid deployment of new technologies, to “achieve a green recovery of the world economy in the post-COVID era and thus create a powerful force driving sustainable development.”
Confident that the mantle of world leadership was passing from the United States to him and China, Mr. Xi concluded by saying: “The baton of history has been passed to our generation, and we must make the right choice, a choice worthy of the people’s trust and of our times. Let us join hands to uphold the values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom shared by all of us and build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind. Together, we can make the world a better place for everyone.”
Just how is China preparing itself for Net Zero?
The London-based energy and climate research group Ember reports that China generated 53% of the world’s total coal-fired power in 2020, a jump of 9 percent from 2015, while adding 38.4 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired power installations in 2020 alone. China is also financing billions of dollars’ worth of coal-fired power plants in African, Asian and other “developing” nations.
In 2020 China also added a record 71.7 GW of wind power and 48.2 GW of solar, while setting a goal of 70 GW of installed nuclear energy by 2025. But “progress is nowhere near fast enough,” says Ember power analyst Dave Jones, who insists “coal power needs to collapse by 80% by 2030 to avoid dangerous levels of warming.” Or so he and President Biden believe.
A joint analysis by Climate Analytics and the Asia Society Policy Institute concludes that, to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal limiting the global industrial era (post Little Ice Age) temperature rise to of 1.5o C, China would have to reach peak CO2 emissions by 2025 and reduce them rapidly thereafter, with a total phase-out of coal-fired power by 2040. Highly unlikely.
However, a typical coal-fired power plant has a 40-year lifespan. Would China throw away massive investments just to kowtow to the UN? Draworld Environment Research Center chief economist Zhang Shuwei says Chinese coal may have to absorb over $300 billion in stranded assets if the nation follows through and undertakes a “cliff fall of coal power generation after 2030.” Also highly unlikely.
Indeed, says the New York Post, China’s betrayal of its commitment to Hong Kong, its duplicity over the COVID pandemic and its dissembling on treatment of Uighurs suggest the Middle Kingdom cannot be trusted to keep its word. It shows there is no point negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party on issues like climate change, the Post added.
Agence France-Presse reported in March that China’s latest five-year plan increases investment in coal and omits any cap on total energy consumption. Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air analyst Lauri Myllyvirta also compares Xi’s words with China’s deeds, concluding “the central contradiction between expanding the smokestack economy and promoting green growth appears unresolved.”
Japanese journalists also questioned China’s commitment to any “green” economy. They contrasted China to supposedly “excellent” efforts by Japan and its Western allies to ramp up wind and solar – while failing to mention that new Japanese coal plants exceeded retirements in 2020, or that India and many other nations are also beefing up coal mining and power generation.
Other journalists are equally offended by China’s apparent duplicity. “Despite pledges to cut emissions, China goes on a coal spree,” a Yale Environment360 headline proclaimed. In the article, China-based free-lancer Michael Standaert argued that there is a “real and figurative haze about how strong its climate ambitions really are and how quickly the country can wean itself from … coal.” Mother Jones reposted the article under the headline “China is bingeing on coal.”
Vox correspondent Lili Pike provides a backstory excuse for China’s seemingly contradictory behavior. China’s provinces, she notes, have authority to approve new power plants on their own and see new coal plants as a way to boost their GDP and provide jobs. The economic slowdowns linked to COVID provided extra incentives for them to do so.
Perhaps Vox thinks the provinces will recognize their ill-considered investments and shutter their coal plants once their economies are again rolling along. Perhaps pigs will fly.
China’s “slouching towards Net Zero” approach belies the panicked warnings of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who insists “the climate emergency” is the defining crisis of our time and is happening even more quickly than we feared. It “is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win,” he says.
Guterres made a toothless plea to China last July to stop building new coal plants, but he giddily applauded Xi’s rhetoric in September. Xi has also won praise from mega-billionaire Bill Gates, who gushed over China’s “determination” to prioritize the climate and its contributions to carbon reduction.
Said Gates: “It’s great that President Xi is making climate a priority and wants to work with other countries on this…. Without the contributions of China, many of the key ingredients [in fighting climate change], like batteries and solar power, wouldn’t be so affordable.” [We’re on the same team, babee!]
In the real world, not every environmental disaster prediction has come true. Actually, hardly any of them have. For example, Paul Ehrlich’s best-selling book, The Population Bomb, opened with this frightful assertion: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”
The greatest famine since Stalin and Mao deliberately starved tens of millions to death never happened.
More recently, Ehrlich’s ideological offspring Greta Thunberg proclaimed: “The world is going to end in twelve years if we don’t address climate change…. Around 2030 we will be in a position to set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control that will lead to the end of our civilization as we know it.” Criticizing China for detaining a young Chinese “climate striker,” Thunberg added: “Billions of people will die, and children will die while parents lose their jobs!”
Of course people are far more likely to lose their jobs or die if countries are forced to exist on minimalist, weather-dependent wind and solar power – under racist, carbon-colonialist restrictions imposed on them by woke climate alarmist banks, bureaucrats, pressure groups and ill-educated teenagers.
Perhaps Xi Jinping knows it’s too late to save the planet – so why not just “binge” on coal, keep his carefully watched subjects happy, and keep playing President Biden and other Western leaders like a piano. Perhaps he’s read the tea leaves, or the astronomical charts, and knows another killer asteroid is heading toward Earth – so why worry about death by fossil-fuel-driven climate change.
Or maybe he figures that by 2030 the whole world will be under his control – since his economy and military are growing, Beijing owns or controls supply lines and manufacturing for the entire panoply of pretend-renewable energy technologies, it steals intellectual property rights with impunity, and no foreign country will dare to take China on, for all those reasons.
Duggan Flanakin is director of policy research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org)