China’s energy development model exports pollution

The People’s Republic of China is building new coal-fired power plants worldwide, exporting a dirty model of energy development, despite the environmental consequences.

China is building or planning more than 300 coal plants worldwide, even as the rest of the world shifts to less harmful energy sources, according to news reports.

According to the Global Energy Monitor, China is the top government supporting coal plant projects globally, currently financing over 53 gigawatts of coal power abroad.

China also is increasing its reliance on coal domestically; in the first half of 2020, China had proposed 40.8 gigawatts of new coal plants — nearly equivalent to the entire coal fleet of South Africa.

Harvard University lecturer Edward Cunningham, who specializes on China’s energy markets, told National Public Radio in April 2019 that the new coal plants in countries including Turkey, Bangladesh and Vietnam could pollute the environment for decades.

“When you put money down and put steel into the ground for a coal-fired power plant,” Cunningham said, “it’s a 40- or 50-year commitment.”

The PRC is the world’s leading annual emitter of greenhouse gases, with PRC energy-related emissions increasing more than 80 percent between 2005 and 2019.

The PRC is also the world’s leading emitter of mercury air pollution from coal power plants domestically and abroad. As the world’s leading financier of new coal plants, it is exporting dirty energy production to developing countries as part of its “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative and though government loans.

OBOR promises new investment to developing nations but also delivers shoddy construction, labor abuses, unsustainable debt and environmental damage that host countries must deal with for years to come.

A better option

The United States works with international partners and the private sector to support low-and middle-income nations’ development of affordable, clean energy, through high-quality infrastructure projects.

The U.S. government’s Asia EDGE (Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy) initiative has dedicated more than $140 million in technical assistance to support energy security, diversification, access, and trade across the Indo-Pacific.

As of November 2019, the program had already mobilized more than $1.5 billion in private and public investments for 11 renewable energy projects in Indonesia, including the country’s first wind farm in South Sulawesi. The U.S. Agency for International Development is also working with the Asian Development Bank to mobilize $7 billion for investment in energy projects in the region.

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) will invest up to $2 billion to deliver reliable, sustainable energy to the 800 million people worldwide who currently lack electricity, and to 2.8 billion more who have unreliable access. The DFC is a U.S. government institution that supports private­-sector infrastructure and development projects in low-income countries.