Eye on Asia
Last year, for the first time, a greater proportion of China’s overseas energy investment went into renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.
Solar, wind and hydropower projects accounted for 57 per cent of China’s overseas energy investment, compared to 39 per cent in 2019, while coal, oil and gas accounted for the remaining 43 per cent, according to Beijing-based think tank Green Belt and Road Initiative Centre.
Although coal projects still made up 27 per cent of China’s overseas energy investments, up from 19 per cent in 2019, solar and wind projects have grown similarly to 23 per cent from 15.5 per cent. This all happened without any clear, specific guidance or encouragement from the Chinese government, whose climate announcements fail to mention China’s carbon pollution abroad.
Last September, President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly that China aimed to hit peak emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
Less than three months later, he expanded on the 2030 plan at the Climate Ambition Summit, pledging to cut carbon emissions by at least 65 per cent of 2005 levels, make non-fossil fuels about 25 per cent of its primary energy mix, increase forest cover by 6 billion cubic metres, and grow wind and solar capacity to over 1.2 billion kilowatts.
With these announcements, China showed its confidence, determination and ambition to become a climate action leader.
President Xi would have unveiled these commitments only after rounds of careful checks and thorough calculations – to be absolutely certain they will be kept. The climate targets for 2030 and 2060 are also clearly based on evidence and data.
By end-2017, China had cut its carbon emissions by 46 per cent from 2005 levels, well before the 2020 target range of 40-45 per cent. By end-2018, China’s forest stock had reached 17 billion cubic metres, ahead of the 2020 target of 16.5 billion cubic metres. As of end-2020, China’s non-fossil energy mix was expected to reach 15.8 per cent, again, bettering the 15 per cent target laid out in 2014.
Backed by these achievements, China’s latest climate targets were made with understandable confidence. But so far, there has been little word on climate action or commitments outside China, other than President Xi’s vaguely worded vision of “green and low-carbon development” at the Belt and Road Forum in April 2019.
How this vision will be achieved remains a big question. Without cleaning up and decarbonising its overseas energy investment, China will not succeed as a global climate leader.
As many countries went into lockdown with the Covid-19 pandemic, energy demand dropped. This gave many countries an unprecedented opportunity to review their energy policies and steer them towards renewable resources.
Governments and businesses such as in the Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Pakistan have said they are ready to move away from coal, signalling that coal investment is increasingly unwelcome.
As more countries announce a move away from coal ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in November, China will have many opportunities to show climate leadership, not just through its actions at home, but also its investments overseas.
The Belt and Road Forum is due to hold its third gathering in April, with over 130 partner countries potentially reaching new investment deals with China. In May, China will host the UN Biodiversity Conference in Yunnan.
China’s 14th five-year plan already contains a detailed domestic decarbonisation road map and all industry sectors and local governments are committed to ensuring China keeps its promises to the world.
The world welcomes China to show more confidence, determination and ambition as a climate leader in revolutionising its energy industry and leading other Asian countries in an energy transition towards a safe and sustainable future. After all, a good leader leads not only by example, but also by helping others towards the same goal.
Xiaojun Wang is executive director of Manila-based People of Asia for Climate Solutions
Photo: Location of China-funded Kaliwa Dam project in General Nakar, Quezon, Philippines. Photo by Gigie Cruz