China stops building coal plants in developing countries

Chinese President Xi Jinping used his speech to the United Nations General Assembly to announce a major new step toward controlling global emissions. Reiterating his country's climate pledges, Xi said China would start making it easier for other countries to control emissions: new support for renewable energy projects and an end to coal-fired power plant construction.

China funds a lot of infrastructure projects in developing economies as part of its foreign policy efforts; These often have the side benefits of involving Chinese companies and engineers. When these projects involved the production of electricity, they often involved China's most widely used source: coal. As such, the number of coal plants to be built in the developing world has been large and has raised legitimate questions about the potential for any global carbon emissions targets to be met.

China had already committed to bringing its emissions peaking at the end of this decade and reaching carbon neutrality by 2060. But up to this point, its development banks continued to fund coal plants, and their companies often built them. In a recorded speech played at the United Nations today, Xi noted that this would stop: "China will intensify its support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy and will not build new coal-fired energy projects abroad."

That was the full extent of his words on the subject, yet he leaves out a lot of detail regarding the timing and extent of the stop. The most important issue will be how long the projects must take before they are allowed to continue.

This step makes sense for everyone involved. Renewable energy is now the cheapest option almost everywhere on the planet, and China manufactures a lot of the devices needed for solar and wind energy. It also comes on the heels of similar decisions by Japan and South Korea. These decisions are likely to put a tight cap on the number of coal plants built and significantly limit the coal export market in the future.

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