You have to hand it to Xi Jinping. The Chinese “president for life” last September schmoozed the royalty of the United Nations with his unexpected pledge that his country aims “to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality (Net Zero) before 2060.”
Xi then urged other nations “to pursue innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all” through rapid deployment of new technologies so as to “achieve a green recovery of the world economy in the post-COVID era and thus create a powerful force driving sustainable development.”
The eloquent sage, confident that the mantle of world leadership was passing from the United States into his hands, concluded his prepared remarks as follows:
“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.”
And just how is China preparing itself for Net Zero?
The London-based energy and climate research group Ember reports that China generated 53 percent 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 other “developing” nations.
[It should be noted that in 2020 China also added a record 71.7 GW of wind power and 48.2 GW of solar. And China has set a goal of 70 GW of installed nuclear energy by 2025. But “progress is nowhere near fast enough,” according to Ember power analyst Dave Jones. Jones added that “coal power needs to collapse by 80 percent by 2030 to avoid dangerous levels of warming.” Or so he believes.]
Analysis by the Asia Society Policy Institute and Climate Analytics, as reported in Climate Change News, indicates that to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5o C temperature reduction by 2060, China would have to achieve peak CO2 emissions by 2025 and rapidly reduce them thereafter, with a total phaseout of coal-fired power by 2040.
Yet, according to the Renewable Energy Institute, the typical coal-fired power plant has a lifespan of about 40 years. Would China throw away massive investments just to kowtow to the UN? Zhang Shuwei, chief economist for the Draworld Environment Research Center, claims 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.”
But, as the New York Post recently editorialized, China’s betrayal of its commitment to Hong Kong, together with its duplicity regarding the COVID pandemic and its dissembling on treatment of the Uighurs, signals that the Middle Kingdom cannot be trusted to keep its word. The trampling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, the paper argues, demonstrates that there is no point negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party on long-term issues like climate change.
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. Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, compares Xi’s words with China’s deeds, stating that, “The central contradiction between expanding the smokestack economy and promoting green growth appears unresolved.”
Similarly, Japanese journalists also question China’s commitment to the Green economy – in contrast to the “excellent” responses of Japan and its Western allies (despite the fact that new Japanese coal plants in 2020 exceeded retirements and that high-efficiency coal plants are unlikely to disappear soon. [The Japanese in their zeal to single out China ignored the fact that India and many other nations are also beefing up coal mining and power generation.]
Other journalists are equally offended at China’s apparent duplicity. Michael Standaert, a China-based free-lancer, wrote in Yale E360, under the headline, “Despite pledges to cut emissions, China Goes on a Coal Spree.” Standaert argued that there is a “real and figurative haze about how strong [China’s] climate ambitions really are and how quickly the country can wean itself from … coal.” [When Mother Jones reposted Standaert’s article, the headline read in part, “China Is Bingeing on Coal.”]
Vox correspondent Lili Pike provides a backstory excuse for China’s seemingly odd behavior. She notes that China’s provinces, who gained authority to approve new power plants in 2014, see new coal plants as a way to boost their GDP and provide jobs. The economic slowdowns linked to COVID provided extra incentives for these provincial plants.
Perhaps Vox thinks that, once the provincial economies are rolling along, they will recognize their bad investments and shutter their coal plants almost immediately. 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” — the defining crisis of our time — is happening even more quickly than we feared. It “is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win.”
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 in a February 2021 interview with China Daily gushed over China’s “determination” to prioritize the climate and its contributions to carbon reduction.
According to 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 the 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. Paul Ehrlich’s best-seller, The Population Bomb, opened with this frightful bit of “news”:
“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.”
Today, we have the wisdom of apparent REM fan Greta Thunberg: “The world is going to end in 12 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.” In 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!”
Stop it, President Xi! You are making her cry!
But perhaps Xi Jinping knows Greta is dead right. Perhaps he knows it is too late to save the planet. So why not just “binge” on coal, keep the peasants happy, and stay in office until the end. Maybe Xi has read the tea leaves, or the astronomical charts, and rightly foresees the second coming of the killer asteroid.
Or maybe he figures that by 2030 the whole world will be under his control.
As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.