by Dr. Sebastien Goulard
In a recorded video addressed to the United Nations General Assembly on the 20th September, President Xi Jinping announced the ban of coal plant construction abroad. This is a major decision that will help developing nations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and speed up carbon neutrality objectives globally.
President Xi Jinping actually followed the advice formulated by the BRI International Green Development Coalition (BRIGC) unveiled in December 2020. This China-based research expert network proposed the restriction of coal-fired power plants abroad. According to the guidance the BRIGC has edited, BRI projects should be classified according to their environmental impacts.
This decision was not particularly easy to take, as many Chinese companies working in the coal sector look to foreign markets to continue activities that are no longer welcomed by Chinese local and national authorities. One of our recent articles showed that some coal-powered plants, originally built in China, were relocated to Cambodia, a country where environmental standard were lower. Chinese companies have also constructed coal plants in Pakistan, where Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a coal phase-out in spite of resistance from local operators and Chinese investors.
Coal is usually seen as one of the cheapest and most efficient way to get power, which is why it is widely popular among developing countries. Although its negative environmental impacts are well known, many countries rely on it for power. Most wealthy economies are planning a progressive coal phase-out (like Germany), but this process is harder for developing countries whose energy needs are surging because of rapid urbanization.
President Xi Jinping’s decision will improve the image of the BRI abroad, as this connectivity project has been regularly criticized for its negative impacts on environment. It will also support Chinese renewable energy companies that are searching for new markets abroad and force Chinese coal companies to innovate and develop new energy solutions.
By announcing this ban, President Xi Jinping will also prevent China for being further blamed for not taking environmental issues seriously.