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Xi’s carbon-neutral pledge doesn't stand up to scrutiny

China’s real approach to climate change is belied by its actions, particularly its massive investment in coal power

Xi’s carbon-neutral pledge doesn't stand up to scrutiny

(Wikimedia Commons photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — Chinese dictator Xi Jinping (習近平) was given a platform at the UN General Assembly last week to whitewash his regime's culpability for the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, its genocide of Uighur Muslims, and its illegal annexation of Hong Kong.

Xi didn’t disappoint, pledging that China would go carbon neutral by the year 2060, a claim so utterly ridiculous it would be laughable if so many Western leaders weren't lapping it up.

“This is very, very big news,” fawned British environment minister Zac Goldsmith on Twitter.

Except it isn’t big news at all. It is utterly meaningless, just like every other promise and policy pledge that comes from Xi Jinping and other Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials.

China’s climate shame

Let’s take a look at the facts. China is the single biggest polluter on the planet. According to Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate science website, it was “responsible for effectively all the increase in global CO2 emissions in 2019.”

Over the last three years, the CCP has dramatically reduced its spending on clean energy projects. Between 2017 and 2018, the amount spent on such projects dropped from US$122 billion to $86 billion, a decline of a third.

At the same time, it has been ramping up spending on coal power, the dirtiest form of energy production there is.

According to the Global Energy Monitor, China expanded its coal-fired capacity by nearly 43 gigawatts between January 2018 and June 2019. By way of comparison, the rest of the world saw an 8 GW decline.

China currently has another 150 GW of coal power capacity in development — the equivalent of adding the coal output of the entire European Union to its current enormous figures.

In March, the CCP launched an economic stimulus package worth an estimated US$7 trillion in an attempt to prop up its ailing economy. Needless to say, this involved more money being ploughed into — you guessed it — coal power!

Coal-fired power plants have an average life-span of more than 60 years; in China, they are often kept going far longer than that. The question is, why would the CCP be spending billions of dollars on coal power if it were serious about going carbon neutral in just 40 years’ time.

The political prism of the claim

As with everything the CCP says, the carbon neutral claim has to be looked at in the political context of the day. We have to ask: what is in it for Xi?

As Li Shuo, an expert on Chinese climate policy from Greenpeace Asia, told the BBC, Xi has a long track record of “leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical purposes.”

It was Xi who reached an agreement on climate change with former U.S. President Barack Obama in one of the foundation stones of the Paris Agreement. With President Trump having controversially withdrawn the U.S. from this agreement, Xi’s announcement in the General Assembly makes communist China look progressive by comparison.

It also builds bridges with the EU, which has previously called for Xi to make exactly this type of promise.

The problem is that in the West, governments that make pledges such as this are then accountable by their voters if they fail to deliver. Xi has no such inconvenience, and there will be zero consequences domestically or internationally if China fails to hit this target.

This is why Xi doesn’t have to think twice about making such an ambitious assurance.

But when the actions of the Chinese regime and its rhetoric differ so dramatically, the question we should be asking is why Western politicians like Goldsmith give it the public praise it is so clearly looking for?

The answer is probably that Xi is saying what most people want to hear, and we are desperate to believe him on this.

But like the CCP’s economic data, its protestations of innocence over its myriad human rights atrocities, and its desperate denials of responsibility for the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the truth is that you cannot believe a single word this totalitarian regime says.

You would think that after being burned so many times, and with the CCP’s pandemic still raging across the globe, we would have learned this lesson by now!

Updated : 2021-10-23 11:04 GMT+08:00