China’s pledge to stop coal-fired projects overseas ‘a great economic sacrifice;’ nation determines to curb global warming
‘A great economic sacrifice’ to curb global warming
Published: Sep 22, 2021 10:04 PM
Photo taken on Jan. 26, 2021 shows a view of Sahiwal coal-fired power plant in Sahiwal, Pakistan.(Photo: Xinhua)

Photo taken on Jan. 26, 2021 shows a view of Sahiwal coal-fired power plant in Sahiwal, Pakistan.(Photo: Xinhua)

Chinese President Xi Jinping's pledge that China will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad constitutes a "huge economic sacrifice" for the country's thermal power sector, which is now the world's largest and mostly relies on overseas markets during China's strong push to curb global warming in the past years. 

The huge sacrifice China made also demonstrates its "firmest determination and greatest efforts" to make solid and detailed plans in achieving its green commitment and its devotion to solving humanity's most crucial issues, experts and industry players said.

"China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad," Xi said in his speech by video at the general debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Xi also stressed accelerating the transition to a green and low-carbon economy and achieving green recovery and development. "China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. This requires tremendous work, and we will make every effort to meet these goals," he said.

"China has the most competitive and efficient thermal power ability in the world. The central government's commitment means the whole industry, dominated by state-owned firms, will have to transform," Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

In response to the call, a source close to a major state-owned power firm told the Global Times on Wednesday that the firm will gradually phase out coal-fired power plants and will turn to clean-energy power businesses.

The source added that thermal power plant projects are mainly in developing countries, that as of 2020, clean energy accounted for about 80 percent of all its businesses, while thermal power and nuclear power accounted for a relatively small proportion.

"Chinese investment will have to abandon some of the thermal power projects they track in countries like Indonesia and Bangladesh, which are relatively rich in coal resources," another industry insider who worked at a state-owned energy firm told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

But Chinese investment in countries such as Nepal and Myanmar will not be impacted, as they are rich in hydroelectric power resources, the person said.

"Chinese firms that take on project contracting are set to suffer more, since with the adjustment of the domestic power generation structure, this type of project contracting companies are focusing on developing overseas markets, and they may face more uncertainties," the source said.

Experts said the goal is in line with China's detailed timeline of meeting its overall targets. "China will gradually detail its existing goals, such as the coal industry reaching the carbon emissions peak earlier," Li Junfeng, former director general of China's National Center of Climate Change Strategy Research under the National Development and Reform Commission, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Li said that the promise to stop building coal projects overseas will encourage other developing countries which are cooperating with China to turn to clean energy and to contribute to the fight against climate change. 

The carbon peak and carbon neutrality target means that China will complete the world's highest reduction in carbon emission intensity, and achieve the goal of achieving carbon neutrality from carbon peak in the shortest time in global history, China's top climate advisor Xie Zhenhua addressed a meeting on Wednesday.

Per capita GDP and per capita carbon emissions at peak time in China will be lower than the peak levels of developed countries such as the US, Europe, and Japan then. "This will bring about a wide-ranging and profound economic and social systemic transformation, which requires all of us to make great efforts," Xie said.

At a US-led global climate summit in April this year, Xi promised that China would include the strategy to reach carbon emissions peak and carbon neutrality into the country's whole layout of building an eco-civilization. He said China is supporting places and key industries that have the ability to reach the carbon peak first, and the country will impose strict regulations on the coal power industry.

The move is also in stark contrast to US President Joe Biden's hollow promises on climate change, COVID-19, and global unity, on which the US hasn't contributed much or, in some cases, even sabotaged progress, experts said.

"The most difficult part for China, a developing economy, to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by 2060 is that it has to take economic development in mind while curbing global warming," Lin said.

"That's a different case for developed countries like the US," Lin noted, implying the US can contribute more to human concerns rather than just pressuring others.