Joe Biden has pledged that one of his first acts as President will be rejoining the Paris Climate Treaty – which gives China a complete pass on reducing emissions until at least 2030. Even Biden’s designated “climate envoy,” former Secretary of State John Kerry, says the existing treaty “has to be stronger,” but then claims China will somehow become an active partner, instead of the competitor and adversary it clearly is. His rationale: “Climate is imperative, it’s as imperative for China as it is for us.”
As to China employing more Green technology and abiding by (much less strengthening) the Paris agreement, the evidence is at best spotty, at worst completely the opposite. President Trump pulled the United States out of Paris, but between January 2017 and May 2019 the US had shuttered 50 coal-fired power plants, with 51 more shutdowns announced, bringing the total shutdowns to 289 (330 once announced shutdowns also take place) since 2010, soon leaving under 200 still operating.
Meanwhile, as of 2019, China had 2,363 active coal-fired power plants and was building another 1,171 in the Middle Kingdom – plus hundreds more in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. A CO2 Coalition white paper by Kathleen Hartnett White and Caleb Rossiter reveals that China now has modern pollutant-scrubbing technology on over 80% of its coal-fired power plants, but no scrubbers at any Chinese-built coal-fired power plants in Africa (or likely anywhere else) – and none anywhere that remove carbon dioxide.
Harvard University China specialist Edward Cunningham says China is building, planning or financing more than 300 coal plants, in places as widespread as Turkey, Egypt, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines. India, South Korea, Japan, South Africa and even Germany are also building hundreds of coal-fired power plants. No matter how many the USA closes down, it won’t make any global difference.
Boston University data indicate that China has invested over $50 billion in building new coal plants overseas in recent years, and over a quarter of new coal plants outside the Middle Kingdom have some commitment or offer of funds from Chinese financial institutions.
“Why is China placing a global bet on coal?” NPR wonders. That’s a 40 or even 50-year commitment, the life span of coal-fired units. The NPR authors even quote the Stinson Center think tank’s Southeast Asia analyst, who says “it’s not clear when you look at the actual projects China is funding that they are truly Green.” They’re obviously not green, and more is obviously going on than their poor eyesight can perceive.
China knows it and the world will need oil, natural gas and coal for decades to come. It sees “green” as the color of money and is happy to extend credit under terms very favorable to China. Communist Party leaders seek global military and economic power – and global control of electricity generation, raw materials extraction, and manufacturing of wind turbines, solar panels and battery modules they will sell to address the West’s obsession with the “manmade climate crisis” and “renewable, sustainable” energy.
Party leaders also know its production of “green” technologies is a good smokescreen for all this coal power – and few Western governments will dare to criticize China sharply over this or Covid.
A recent Global Warming Policy Foundation report lambasts environmentalists (like John Kerry) as “useful idiots” who “praise the scale of Chinese ambition on climate change, while paying lip service in criticizing China’s massive coal expansion.” It notes that China rarely honors its international agreements and has no intention of reducing fossil fuel consumption.
But what are Africa and other developing nations to do? The West will not fund even clean coal projects that would eliminate pollution from dung and wood fires, while providing reliable, affordable electricity for lights, refrigerators, schools, shops, hospitals, factories and much more. China will – and despite the heavy price, their demand for energy requires that they get electricity by any means necessary.
With 1.1 billion people, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s poorest region, despite massive mineral resources and a young, energetic population with an affinity for entrepreneurship. Dutch economist Wim Naudé says Africa must industrialize, which means it must have affordable, reliable electricity, if it is to overcome poverty and disease, create jobs and discourage terrorism.
Unfortunately, outrageously, US, EU, UN and World Bank policies have stymied African energy resource development. As White and Rossiter note, US policies since the Obama era oppose Africans using the continent’s abundant coal and gas to fuel power plants, on the ground that carbon dioxide from fossil fuels might exacerbate climate change.
African Energy Chamber executive chairman NJ Ayuk recently reported that the United Kingdom has also decided it will stop funding new oil, gas and coal projects as of November 4, 2021, the fifth anniversary of the Paris treaty. The decision kowtows to Green opposition to UK Export Finance support for a Mozambique terminal to export low-CO2 emissions liquefied natural gas.
Ayuk had been touting natural gas as an increasing option for African power plants, boasting that Africa is home to four of the world’s top 20 crude oil producers (Nigeria, Angola, Algeria and Libya); Algeria and Nigeria are among the top 20 natural gas producers; and Mozambique also has huge gas reserves.
“It is troubling,” Ayuk said, “that an aggressive foreign-funded anti-African energy campaign continues to undermine the potential of making Mozambique an oasis for gas monetization and meeting our increasing energy demands.” Despite this setback, he continued, “we must continue to be unwavering in our commitment to stand up for Africa’s energy sector, its workers, reducing energy poverty, and those free-market values that will make our continent attractive to committed energy investors.”
In much of Africa, electricity demand far outstrips supply. “In factories, businesses, government buildings and wealthy neighborhoods in every African country,” White and Rossiter observe, a cacophonous symphony of soot-spewing backup diesel engines erupts when the grid goes down, which is usually every day.” In fact, says the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, many African countries spend more on dirty backup power than on electricity for the grid itself; in West Africa, backup kilowatts equal 40% of total grid kilowatts.
In Sudan, which gets 30% of its energy from dams on the Nile River, diesel-based pumps run constantly to lift river water for irrigation, even at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. In Nigeria, hotels ban guests from jogging because of health dangers from breathing soot from their diesel backup generators, which kick in repeatedly as neighborhoods go dark. In Southern Africa, construction sites simply run generators all day, filling nearby streets with noxious clouds. Universities rely on diesels to run old, inefficient air conditioning units.
White and Rossiter note that American clean coal technology, exemplified by the Turk power plant in Arkansas, virtually eliminates health hazards from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates. They urge the U.S. to support proposals by African governments to import this technology, noting that electricity is “the central nervous system of a modern economy and modern life expectancy. Africa’s electricity deficit translates directly into its life-expectancy deficit of 15 years per person.”
Millions die needlessly every year, from countless diseases of energy and economic poverty.
But under a Biden-Harris Administration, with John Kerry at the forefront, there is little hope that these African and other pleas will be heard. With European allies in myopic puritanical lockstep, China will continue to get a total pass on complying with Green demands – and will have free rein to turn sub-Saharan Africa into a giant Chinese colony, despite the environmental damage, monstrous debt, slave and child labor under horrific workplace conditions, and likely modest benefits to Africans.
It is eco-imperialism and eco-manslaughter at its worst. Where are the vaunted guardians of climate and environmental justice?
*Duggan Flanakin is Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org)