Fabien Baussart
Fabien Baussart

Spotlight on world’s bigger emitter at Glasgow climate summit

With less than three weeks to go for the United Nations’ COP26 summit at Glasgow (Scotland), countries are busy debating on what should be the global community’s stand on the climate negotiations. While developed countries are trying to dilute the principle of equity by pushing developing countries to announce a target of net zero emissions by 2050. The real pressure is on China which is expected to step up its targets to cut emissions ahead of the COPs 26 conference at Glasgow. The spotlight will certainly be on the world’s biggest emitter in the 13 days conference which is scheduled to begin on October 31.

Coal is a very polluting substance. China has recently issued a grand statement saying they will not fund coal-based power plants abroad but they have not talked about closing down their own.

The fact is that China has made the announcement under international pressure as part of its updated package of national climate pledges to be submitted to the United Nations.

Beijing is the largest source of financing for coal power plants globally, and Xi’s announcement will have a far-reaching impact on coal power expansion plans in countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Africa. The announcement could affect 44 coal plants earmarked for Chinese state financing, totalling $50 billion, according to Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a U.S. think tank. That has the potential to reduce future carbon dioxide emissions by 200 million tonnes a year, GEM told recently.

The announcement makes it amply clear that existing projects will continue. There are more than 20 Chinese financed coal-fired power units under construction in South Africa, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Serbia and United Arab Emirates, according to data from the Boston University Global Development Policy Centre. Another 17 are in the planning stage.

How about China’s domestic emissions? China is one country that will occupy 30% of the carbon budget between 2020 and 2030. Enviromentalists said that it is far more important to know how China begins to phase out coal-fired power domestically and when?

Researchers said that China has a long way from phasing out its massive domestic use of coal.“China’s economy still relies heavily on coal,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin. “Stopping coal finance abroad is an important step, but China is a long way from phasing out coal altogether.”

Despite the country’s plans to become carbon neutral by 2060, its domestic coal production has nearly tripled since 2001. If one draws comparison between China on one hand and US and Europe on the other hand, the amount of coal produced in the United States and Europe has roughly halved over this time. China accounted for more than half of the 7.7 billion tonnes of coal produced globally in 2020, dwarfing the contributions of the next biggest producers (‘World’s biggest coal producers’).

China’s most ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is causing a major environmental risk. China has lured several poor countries by starting BRI projects in these countries. European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) has reported that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is causing significant environmental risks. China’s BRI promises to create opportunities for the South Asian states to facilitate a more sustainable growth model. However, EFSAS said that as South Asia is amongst the main regions likely to be hit severely by the negative environmental impact of climate change, the BRI, which was announced in 2013, will exacerbate these trends. The EFSAS said that BRI, which is clearly a developmental project for industrial growth, is likely to further intensify environmental degradation. The foundation noted that for China, the construction of physical infrastructure has played a foundational role in the rapid economic development of the country. Therefore, it added the BRI exports this infrastructure-driven growth model, including to South Asia.

So China’s role is crucial to efforts on climate change as it produces 28% of global emissions, compared with other countries like the UK’s with 1%. China is now emitting more CO2 than all rich nations put together, according to some estimates.
There are growing concerns about China’s attitude towards the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow after Beijing was angered by the new security and defence pact between Australia, the UK and the US.
Glasgow summit:

Nearly 200 countries are slated to take part in the proposed conference which has assumed greater significance for several reasons. For one, it is being organised after a gap of two years. COP26 was originally scheduled to be held last year but it had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Another reason is that COP26 conference summit comes just months after the United Nations report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that the world was warming faster than previously thought. With climate change expectations are higher from the COP this year.

Moreover, the COP also marks five years of COP21 when a landmark climate change treaty, called the Paris Agreement was signed. The anniversary assumed greater significance as countries evaluate progress made to deal with the challenges of climate change every five years.

Extreme weather events linked to climate change – including heatwaves, floods and forest fires – are intensifying. The past decade was the warmest on record, and governments agree urgent collective action is needed.

About the Author
Fabien Baussart is the President of CPFA (Center of Political and Foreign Affairs)
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