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China's carbon neutrality comes up short against dirty Belt and Road

BRI countries are starting to recognize real cost of China's offers to help build polluting power stations

China's foreign investments upend its anti-climate change commitments.

China's foreign investments upend its anti-climate change commitments. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China's continuing investments in dirty energy in developing countries runs counter to its promise of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060.

The construction of coal-fired plants carries weight in China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a multi-trillion-dollar project that aims to fund infrastructure in partnering countries and increase China's regional clout. Between 2000 and 2018, 23.1 percent of the US$251 billion (NT$7 trillion) invested by China’s two biggest policy banks on overseas energy projects was spent on coal plants, AFP said.

The ongoing construction includes the US$3 billion Sengwa power plant in Zimbabwe, a US$2 billion plant in Balochistan, Pakistan, and 13 more in the pipeline, mostly located in the southern Sahara. It is estimated the plants under construction will emit 115 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, with their lifespans lasting for decades.

Cheap coal energy is tantalizing for sub-Saharan countries as energy shortages and power cuts stifle economic development and encumber life. Many countries choose to meet energy demand even it comes with tremendous environmental costs, including sewage, ash pit, and mercury, which endanger the health of local fishing and farming communities, Chibeze Ezekie, a Ghananian environmental activist, told CNN.

Several countries like Kenya and Egypt, which have received Chinese investment to build coal-fired plants, have called a halt to construction owing to environmental concerns.

"The country can't afford to be locking into a hugely polluting, expensive and carbon-intensive mega project at a time when — more than ever — we need to act against the climate crisis and protect the resilience of vulnerable, water-scarce areas," said Michelle Koyama, a South African advocate. She campaigned against the US$10 billion, Chinese-financed power station in the country's Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone.

Meanwhile, in 2019, Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) said at the opening of the BRI summit that construction plans must be high-quality, sustainable, and reasonably priced to help countries fully utilize their resources. But if the country succeeds in erecting all the carbon-belching plants that are being rolled out in the BRI, these plants will add more carbon to the air than the current emissions of all major economies such as Britain, Turkey, and Italy, AFP reported.