Emissions from China-invested overseas coal plants equal to Spain

Fossil fuels produce around half of the energy from overseas Chinese-backed power plants, new study shows.

Carbon dioxide emissions from China-invested power plants overseas now stand at an estimated 245m tonnes per year, about the same as the annual energy-related CO2 emissions from countries the size of Spain or Thailand, new research shows.

Chinese companies and government-run investment banks have financed a total of 171.6 gigawatts of overseas power generation capacity, representing a total of 648 power plants in 92 countries, new research from Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center showed on Tuesday.

“While China has taken steps to decarbonize its overseas investments … more can be done to decarbonize China’s global power, including a particular focus on decarbonizing Asia, where the most generating capacity is financed by China and over 50 percent is coal-based,” the centre said in its report.

About half of that total capacity of Chinese-backed power generation overseas is fossil-fuel related, and the pipeline of projects could add another 100m tonnes of annual CO2 emissions if they are all completed, said Cecilia Springer, a researcher at the Boston University research centre.

“China’s overseas power portfolio is still dominated by coal and large-scale hydropower, indicating that China can do more to implement its pledge to step up support for green and low-carbon energy in developing countries — especially wind and solar power,” she said.

President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly last year that China would stop investing in overseas coal-fired power plants as part of its commitment to combat climate change, a move estimated to involve about $50bn in investment.

Xi’s pledge led to the immediate cancellation of several overseas projects, though some remained in a “grey area” and could still go ahead, experts said.

China is the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter as well as its largest coal consumer.

The majority of the China-financed overseas power generation capacity now in the planning stage will employ low-carbon energy sources, the Boston University research said, indicating that a recent pledge to end overseas coal financing is having an effect.

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