China’s coal rush: why the West has no business judging Beijing
- China is committed to carbon neutrality by 2060 but, in the short term, Beijing simply has to address an energy shortfall and keep the lights on
- By moving manufacturing to China, the West has offshored some of its carbon emissions. It is not in a position to criticise Beijing
If that means greater short-term reliance on carbon-emitting energy, including coal, then so be it. That clearly doesn’t sit well with the COP26 agenda and its emphasis on countries signing up for “ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets”, but those who might be tempted to criticise China should think twice before doing so.
After all, Western consumers continue to rely on vast amounts of well-made and competitively-priced goods that are “Made in China”, while Western policymakers have been perfectly happy in recent decades to offshore manufacturing to China, thus essentially offshoring some of their own economies’ carbon emissions in the process.
So, anyone that might be considering aiming Greta Thunberg’s famous “How dare you” refrain at China should hold fire.
But for now, Beijing simply has to do what Beijing has to do to mitigate the impact of the energy shortfall. Yet, in China, and the rest of the world, it seems renewable energy sources cannot easily fill the gap, which necessitates recourse to fossil fuels, including coal, to address an immediate energy crisis.
That’s not desirable, and it doesn’t do anything for perceptions of China’s green energy credentials, but it is unavoidable, particularly given that coal remains an integral part of China’s current energy mix.
As industrial and commercial users start to buy electricity at market prices, this should ultimately favour those who adopt a more energy-efficient business model.
“Construction of the first phase of projects with an installed capacity of about 100 gigawatts started recently,” Xi said. That’s ambitious.
Nor is China ignoring the intermittency issue that affects the reliability of solar and wind power. After all, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.
It just means Beijing knows it has to keep the lights on and ensure homes are heated.
Neal Kimberley is a commentator on macroeconomics and financial markets