A coal-fired power plant on the Yangtze River in China's Jiangsu province, in 2018. Photo: AP
by SCMP Editorial
by SCMP Editorial

China and the US must work together on climate change

  • President Xi Jinping has laid out ambitious plans to save the world from catastrophe as has his American counterpart, Joe Biden; together, the two nations can make the difference between life and death
President Xi Jinping’s pledge that China will end financing of overseas coal-fired power plants marks another important step in the nation’s efforts to help the world meet its climate change goals. Beijing will instead support developing countries involved in its Belt and Road Initiative with green and low-carbon energy projects.
Coming ahead of a United Nations summit in Glasgow starting on November 1, the announcement exemplifies the leadership necessary to inspire those taking part to make similarly ambitious commitments. Unless governments work together with a common purpose, temperatures will not be sufficiently kept in check to prevent the threats posed by global warming.
The vow was given to the UN General Assembly, the same forum where Xi last year made the even more significant promise that China would hit peak pollution by 2030 and attain net-zero emissions by 2060. That set the nation on a course of fast-tracking clean energy investment and development, weaning itself off polluting carbon sources and pushing ahead with construction of hydroelectric, nuclear, solar and wind plants.

Those will also be the options for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and other countries that had plans for Chinese coal power projects. More than 40 schemes are involved; China, as a world leader in many clean power technologies, is well-placed to provide their needs.

Ban on overseas coal projects could enhance China’s standing at COP26

Beijing joins Tokyo and Seoul, the two other key players in public financing of coal plants, which earlier this year also announced ending involvement. It has made an important declaration, but no details were given. A number of Chinese overseas coal power projects had already been cancelled or put on hold and the time frame for others involved has not been set.

Whether it applies to both financing and construction has also not been articulated, nor is it certain if it relates only to state-run firms. More than 80 per cent of the world’s coal schemes involve the private sector.

Coal from electricity production is by far the biggest contributor to the carbon emissions behind rising temperatures. China and India account for about two-thirds of global power generation from the fossil fuel. But Beijing is making great headway in reducing the nation’s reliance, cutting its share in energy output from 68 per cent in 2010 to 57 per cent last year with the National Energy Administration aiming for less than 56 per cent this year.

Developed nations are more advanced in turning to cleaner sources, though, taking advantage of the ever-falling cost of solar and wind technology to retire coal-fired plants. United States President Joe Biden pledged to the UN his country would double climate funding for developing nations. The US and China are the world’s biggest polluters and they have to work together and show the way on climate change.