China’s Xi pledges to end funding for overseas coal power plants

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday his country would end support for building new coal-fired power plants abroad, a move that would cut off a key source of financing for the fuel most responsible for climate change.

The news: Xi’s announcement to the United Nations General Assembly will end the flow of cash from the world’s largest public financier to foreign coal projects, and it comes on the heels of similar pledges by Japan and South Korea earlier this year.

“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 told the General Assembly. He did not lay out a timeline to end that financing, but the country has not directed any funding from its Belt and Road Initiative toward coal power plants so far this year.

China had been the subject of a pressure campaign by the United States and other G-7 nations to halt its overseas support of coal power plants. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry had made coal the central topic of his meetings with officials in China earlier this month.

In a statement on Tuesday, Kerry welcomed the move.

“We’ve been talking to China for quite some period of time about this. And I’m absolutely delighted to hear that President Xi has made this important decision,” Kerry said. “It’s a great contribution. It’s a good beginning to the efforts we need to achieve success in Glasgow.”

“This is the announcement China could deliver right now and the one that the U.S. wanted. Investment already trending in this direction,” Joanna Lewis, an associate professor at Georgetown University and an expert on Chinese climate policy, said in a tweet.

The policy change could help bring momentum to the global climate talks this November in Glasgow, Scotland, since nations had been pressing China to reduce both its world-leading domestic emissions and its support for carbon dioxide-intensive industries abroad.

“China was the last government still financing overseas coal plants, so this should eliminate the overseas coal pipeline that was poised to lead us over the climate cliff,” said Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director of international climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Context: Nixing coal finance could halt 40 gigawatts-worth of coal-fired projects currently in the pre-construction phase that have received public Chinese finance, according to think tank E3G.

More than 70 percent of global coal-fired power plants rely on Chinese funding, according to the Beijing-based Green Belt and Road Initiative. Public Chinese finance has put more than 53 gigawatts of coal power online across the world, more than double Japan’s 21 gigawatts, according to EndCoal.org, a project of several environmental groups.

Rumors swirled for months that China already told its state lending institutions that it was ending coal finance, said Justin Guay, director of global climate strategy with climate group the Sunrise Project, calling it “an open secret.”

“The details have not been announced, and the devil is always in the details — so there’s a lot we don’t know,” Guay said. “That being said, China doesn’t do things half-cocked.”

Still, China has continued building domestic coal-fired power plants. Xi reiterated China’s goal to peak emissions sooner than 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060, though nations like the U.S. have pushed him to accelerate those targets.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday his country would end support for building new coal-fired power plants abroad, a move that would cut off a key source of financing for the fuel most responsible for climate change.

The news: Xi’s announcement to the United Nations General Assembly will end the flow of cash from the world’s largest public financier to foreign coal projects, and it comes on the heels of similar pledges by Japan and South Korea earlier this year.

“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 told the General Assembly. He did not lay out a timeline to end that financing, but the country has not directed any funding from its Belt and Road Initiative toward coal power plants so far this year.

China had been the subject of a pressure campaign by the United States and other G-7 nations to halt its overseas support of coal power plants. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry had made coal the central topic of his meetings with officials in China earlier this month.

In a statement on Tuesday, Kerry welcomed the move.

“We’ve been talking to China for quite some period of time about this. And I’m absolutely delighted to hear that President Xi has made this important decision,” Kerry said. “It’s a great contribution. It’s a good beginning to the efforts we need to achieve success in Glasgow.”

“This is the announcement China could deliver right now and the one that the U.S. wanted. Investment already trending in this direction,” Joanna Lewis, an associate professor at Georgetown University and an expert on Chinese climate policy, said in a tweet.

The policy change could help bring momentum to the global climate talks this November in Glasgow, Scotland, since nations had been pressing China to reduce both its world-leading domestic emissions and its support for carbon dioxide-intensive industries abroad.

“China was the last government still financing overseas coal plants, so this should eliminate the overseas coal pipeline that was poised to lead us over the climate cliff,” said Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director of international climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Context: Nixing coal finance could halt 40 gigawatts-worth of coal-fired projects currently in the pre-construction phase that have received public Chinese finance, according to think tank E3G.

More than 70 percent of global coal-fired power plants rely on Chinese funding, according to the Beijing-based Green Belt and Road Initiative. Public Chinese finance has put more than 53 gigawatts of coal power online across the world, more than double Japan’s 21 gigawatts, according to EndCoal.org, a project of several environmental groups.

Rumors swirled for months that China already told its state lending institutions that it was ending coal finance, said Justin Guay, director of global climate strategy with climate group the Sunrise Project, calling it “an open secret.”

“The details have not been announced, and the devil is always in the details — so there’s a lot we don’t know,” Guay said. “That being said, China doesn’t do things half-cocked.”

Still, China has continued building domestic coal-fired power plants. Xi reiterated China’s goal to peak emissions sooner than 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060, though nations like the U.S. have pushed him to accelerate those targets.

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