China is abandoning its plans for new coal-fired power plants abroad. This is a decision that could well mark a turning point in the global fight against CO² emissions. This is in essence what Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in his address to the United Nations General Assembly.
China has funded coal projects in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam as part of a massive infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road Initiative. China's One Belt One Road initiative creates economic, political and security links between Africa and China in favor of Beijing's geopolitical interests.
"The objective of the" One belt, one road "project is the constitution of a" community of common destiny for humanity ", defined as a new global system of alternative economic, political and security" interdependencies "at the center of which China is. For this reason, the Chinese leadership describes the One Belt One Road project as a national strategy bringing together economic, political, diplomatic and military components, and not as a simple succession of initiatives. " 1
China has been under pressure for some time to end funding as the world tries to meet Paris climate agreement targets.
"China will step up its support to other developing countries in accelerating green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad," Mr. Xi in a video recording at the annual summit.
No further details were provided, but the move could limit the expansion of coal-fired power plants in many developing countries as part of China's Belt and Road Initiative.
The BIS has seen China fund trains, roads, ports, and coal-fired power plants in many countries, many of which are developing countries. For the first time in several years, however, it did not finance any project based on the use of coal in the first half of 2021.
China is also the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases and relies heavily on coal for its domestic energy needs.
Xi recalled promises made last year to peak emissions by 2030 and then move towards carbon neutrality by 2060.
US climate envoy John Kerry welcomed the announcement. In a statement he said he was "absolutely delighted to learn that President Xi has taken this important decision."
The head of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 to be held in Scotland next month also applauded the news.
“It is clear that the use of coal to produce energy has started to decline. I welcome President Xi's commitment to stop building new overseas coal projects - a key topic of my discussions during my visit to China, ” Alok Sharma said on Twitter.
This is the kind of announcement that we increasingly expect from China.
For nearly a decade of overseas investment, coal-fired power plants have been a key component of Xi Jinping's Belt and Road initiative. However, the reality is that the number of such projects has dropped significantly.
Crucial details will need to be clarified; When will it take effect? Will it cover new power plants approved but not yet built?
This is progress, but what about its own dependence on coal? Half of the coal burned in the world is burned in China. Many new coal-fired power plants are planned in the country, with a lifespan of 40 to 50 years.
The bigger question remains: when will this country begin to reduce the total number within its borders and significantly reduce its dependence on the most polluting form of electricity generation?
Dozens of new coal-fired power and steel plants in China were announced in the first half of 2021. If built, they alone would add 150 million tonnes of annual carbon dioxide emissions , according to Global Energy Monitor, a research group. Annual global carbon emissions are estimated at around 32 billion tonnes in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency. “This is an important development, as China has been one of the biggest donors of coal infrastructure in developing countries, particularly in Asia, ”said Alden Meyer, senior partner at E3G, a climate advocacy group. But he added that it was also "essential" for China to stop building new coal-fired power plants at home and move away from fuel to meet its climate goals.
Xi's speech came after US President Joe Biden gave his first speech at the United Nations, in which he urged countries to work together like never before to tackle global issues such as climate change and the pandemic.
Mr Biden also said democracy would not be defeated by authoritarianism, but refrained from mentioning China by name.
"The future will belong to those who give their people the ability to breathe freely, not those who seek to suffocate their people with an iron fist ," Biden said.
"We must all denounce and condemn the targeting and oppression of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, whether in Xinjiang or northern Ethiopia, or anywhere in the world," he said. added, referring to the region of western China where China is accused of using forced labor.
Relations between the United States and China are at an all-time low on issues such as trade, human rights and the origins of Covid-19.
In his speech, Xi said China has peaceful intentions in international relations.
But he also appeared to address tensions and forming alliances in the region such as the “Quad” group , made up of Australia, the United States, India and Japan, saying there was a need to “Reject the practice of forming small circles or zero-sum games”. The meeting of March 12, 2021 of the leaders of the four founding countries of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) - Japan, the United States, Australia and India -, at the American initiative, seems to indicate that this mechanism has vocation to become central within the framework of a renewed Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States.
Strategy which France seems to have borne the brunt of recently with the surprise cancellation by Australia of a mega order for submarines, for the benefit of the United States.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said he "welcomes" China's announcement because "accelerating the global phase-out of coal is the step most important to keep the 1.5 ° C target of the Paris Agreement within reach ” . But he added that the world still had "a long way to go to make COP26 a success." Scientists estimate that the world has already warmed by more than 1 ° C since pre-industrial times.
Speaking earlier in the week, António Guterres said that "several emerging economies" must "go the extra mile" by making ambitious promises to limit their emissions. “We especially need the leadership of all the G20 countries,” including China and India, which are dependent on coal.
In July, the G20 was unable to agree on the phasing out of coal power and overseas coal financing. Alok Sharma, the president of the COP26, declared that there had been no consensus among the G20 countries “to relegate to the rank of history”.
Hopefully China's decision brings the world into a healthy dynamic.