Gustav Højmark-Jensen & Manas pratap singh
On a Coal-lision Course
China and the Paris Climate Agreement
As climate change worsens, china exports 'dirty' coal plants to the global south, while keeping 'clean' energy at home for profit.
"I saw my wife, son, and two daughters being washed away behind my back when I wanted to cross the river, but I was stuck in the mud. Where they were stuck, there was an electricity transformer. Heavy floods came and swept them away whilst they were there. My son was electrocuted on the neck by the live wire. The power cable was still connected to the transformer as he fell on it."

Cyclone survivor Herriman Kazembe shared this story with local photojournalist Tafadzwa Ufumeli after he had sought refuge on the highest point he could find, the bedrock of some cliffs. His tired eyes were gleaming in the sharp sunlight.

Within days, light showers turned into one of the most catastrophic disasters in Africa in decades. People were stuck on rooftops and in trees for days, while others looked for their loved ones under the rubble of what had been their homes, as Cyclone Idai ravaged Mozambique and its capital of Beira. Over 650 people died as a direct result of the flash floods, and more than 2 million people across three countries have been affected. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes and have lost contact with their families. According to scientists, there can be no doubt, that the cyclone was a direct result of the increased global temperature, due to climate change.

Just over 2000 kilometres from Beira in Mozambique, on the same coastline, lies the historic island of Lamu in Kenya. Here, the people were not cleaning up after a disaster but were trying to prevent one. Just ten months ago, in June 2018, 200 residents of Lamu took to the streets. Their protest was against the Kenyan government's approval to build a Chinese-funded coal plant of huge capacity. The campaign coordinator of the protest group, Omar M. Elmawi questioned China's "hypocrisy" by saying, "While China has halted a lot of coal plants in China, they are involved in a lot of coal plants in the African region."

Lamu is far from being the only case where China is involved in coal-fuelled power plant projects outside its territory. According to the data collector for coal plants, Urgewald, China is currently developing almost 60 large capacity coal-fired power plants in 17 countries. Almost all of these projects are being conceived in the Global South, where increased populations and economic growth in the past two decades have caused the need for energy to soar.

Juxtapose this overseas focus on coal to China's 'renewable revolution' at home. Here, the local pollution levels from its own coal-power production led China to curb many domestically planned coal projects. As heavy smog descended upon Chinese cities, China began to invest heavily in renewable technology. Ultimately this resulted in China being the world leader in renewable technology development.

And yet, China's export of coal technology remains unparalleled and is growing in developing countries. Meanwhile, its export of renewable energy technology in the same region is dormant. This makes China and Chinese "induced" pollution core issues in the fight for a better climate.Coal remains the most polluting resource in the world. It is the biggest source of harmful carbon dioxide emissions and it is a key reason for the global temperature increase.

China's double-down climate strategy jeopardises the very foundation of the historic 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Four years after a major breakthrough in Paris, the world hasn't achieved much. The global carbon emissions from fossil fuels hit a record high in 2018, with the highest increase seen in seven years.
High Energy Needs In Developing Countries
The Paris Climate Agreement was signed with tremendous ambition, but some of the implications of reality may have been forgotten. For a majority of the developed countries, it may be a natural way forward to start their transition to greener and more efficient energy production. But the reality remains very different in the developing world.

Here, access to electricity and basic energy infrastructure remain scarce. It is estimated that over 600 million people still live without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. That is tens of millions more than the entire population of the European Union, just to put the number into perspective.

In fact, it is the lack of energy and electricity that often prevents developing countries from growth and prosperity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Access to electricity which is often taken for granted in societies across the developed world forms the very foundation of growth in developing countries. And without this foundation, it is impossible to come to par with the Global North.

According to Cathrine Wolfram, associate professor from the University of California, Berkely: "over the next 25 to 30 years, nearly all of the growth in energy demand, fossil fuel use, associated local pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions are forecast to come from the developing world".

Moreover, in 2010 the IEA projected that the energy demand in most of the Asian and all the African nations will increase 2% every year, until 2030. Numerous scientists project the increase to be even higher, as more and more people experience economic growth and therefore will continue to buy household items that require electricity.

Energy is a lucrative industry, so naturally, countless suppliers and developed countries are investing heavily in energy projects in developing countries. But one character stands out, and not for a good reason.

China's Dirty Coal Trade In the Developing World
China emerges as the one country that is focusing a majority of its investments overseas in fossil-fuel projects such as coal, oil and gas. Their primary focus has remained on the heaviest pollutant of all, coal.

"As of now, Chinese financing for power projects abroad has been mainly for coal power plants", says Alvin Lin, Beijing based director of China Climate and Energy Policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. China has invested more than three times as much in coal-power than they did in green alternatives. A joint report done by climate NGOs CoalSwarm, Sierra Club and Greenpeace in 2018 stated that: "internationally, Chinese financial institutions are the world's largest funder of overseas coal plants."

China has been involved in 240 coal-fired power projects in at least 25 developing countries - producing more than 250,000 megawatts of energy. On average, a coal power plant with a capacity of 1,000 MW and high efficiency is likely to produce 6.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. More than what 1.5 million cars would produce for the same duration. Taken together, China is building coal plants that would emit the same level of carbon dioxide as a third of all cars in the world would produce in a year.

With much evidence pointing to a direct relationship between carbon emissions and temperature rise, these statistics are threateningly bad.

Carbon tariffs are on the rise and so are global emission restrictions. Simultaneously, the cost of renewable energy technology and production is dropping. Coal-power could soon become nothing but a huge expense. In fact, the environmental NGO and think-tank Coal Tracker estimates that by 2021 it will be cheaper to build new onshore wind farms than to operate existing coal plants. By 2025 it will cheaper to install new solar panel power plants than to run coal-fired plants.

So how come developing countries are increasingly accepting these large coal-projects from Chinese companies? What makes developing countries accept such an archaic and polluting form of energy when there are clearly alternatives available? And finally, what makes China invest so heavily in the worst resource on earth?

The answer is two-fold and can be found in China's use of so-called 'soft power', and their business strategy, which favours profit.
Chinese Exertion Of Influence In Developing Countries
To understand China's position and level of political and economic influence in developing countries, it is important to fully grasp the scale and scope of its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. This ambitious project has had a major impact on the power structure across the developing regions.

Six years ago, the Chinese government with Xi Jinping at the helm started the world's biggest infrastructure project. The goals of OBOR were numerous, and in 2017 China pledged $113 billion in special funds meant for the developing world in efforts to create a more stable market for China to export their goods and technology.

The money was primarily invested in developing countries in the form of loans for infrastructure development projects. These would then be contracted and constructed by Chinese companies. The first phase of this vast project was to kickstart industrial development. This was done by creating open and bigger ports, building up energy production within each of the countries and ensuring that goods could move between the countries and cities through reliable infrastructure. It is this phase that is now underway.

The OBOR initiative strengthened China's strong foothold in many regions across the world, especially in the Global South. China's soft power in the developing world, which is China's influence on policy-making, has increased tremendously. This is especially true since OBOR efforts and investments have soared to new heights.

According to Kevin P. Gallagher, professor and policy director at the Global Development Policy Center at Boston University, "China helps their firms get opportunities abroad". And yet, Gallagher distances himself from the idea that China is "forcing coal on developing countries". He says that China is not using its soft power directly. However, history suggests otherwise:

An earlier instance of China's exertion of soft power in sub-Saharan Africa was seen in Sudan, according to a study published in the African Journal of Political Science and International Relations. The Chinese government "gave" the Sudanese government critical infrastructure and equipment in order to fight rebels in the Darfur region in the early 2000s. In return, Chinese companies were given the drilling rights to several oil-fields in Sudan. This historic precedent illustrates the link between Chinese state power and Chinese state-owned companies. It also represents how China, through the use of state influence, was able to affect energy and infrastructure policy overseas. Not the first, or the last time.

The example from Sudan renders another important observation: China offered the Sudanese government a "total package" of cash, technology, and political protection from international pressure, in return for the drilling rights. The political protection manifested itself in China's veto power in UN-resolution meetings, where China kept the Sudanese government free from any foreign intervention, even as it was allegedly committing war crimes in Darfur. Such a package can only be offered through immense soft power.

However, the Chinese are no longer prioritising oil-fields. They are instead looking to sell their coal-power technology to developing countries with energy needs. Since coal is being phased out domestically in China, numerous big Chinese corporations are looking for new projects and opportunities for profit. The Chinese government is doing everything in its power to help them win new contracts.

But is China really more concerned about profit than the state of the world? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that they have an ideologically founded ethos of profit.
"The Colour of the Cat Doesn't Matter"- China's Ethos of Profit
The ethos of profit means that China puts profit before other concerns. According to Po Keung Ip, professor and the director of the Applied Ethics Center at the National Central University of Taiwan, China's ethos of profit stems from the "explicit endorsement" by Deng Xiaoping, the revered leader of China and the chief architect of their economic reform.

According to Keung Ip: "one noticeable aftermath of this ethos was the rapid rise of the unethical corporations - groups of companies operating unethically on a massive scale".

In the wake of China's exponential growth and transition to market economy, one of Deng Xiaoping's famous quotes has lived on: "It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice" - a nearly perfect analogy for the way China is conducting its business within the energy sector today.

Despite being an age-old concept, the ethos of profit still applies to China today. Their push for profits at the expense of climate is a prime example of China preferring its growth over the future of the world.

China's soft power influence in the developing world and its ethical leaning towards profit over climate are major factors that have in turn led to increasing global emission levels and pollution. With China's vast investments in developing countries and China's determination to export their fossil-fuel technology, severe risks remain for the fulfilment of the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

However, there is another side to the story of "China-induced" global pollution, and it begins in China's own backyard.
Infamous 'Smogocalypse' In Chinese Metropolitan Cities
Up until 2015, the Chinese government issued "red alerts" in many of its major cities due to what became known as China's infamous 'smogocalyse': A thick veil of smoke and particles covering major cities, including the capital Beijing for weeks in the winter months starting just a decade ago.

The smog and heavy pollution were a product of the 'golden age' of the Chinese economy, which saw a rapid increase in GDP. However, the repercussions were felt heavily by the Chinese population. Schools in Beijing were directed to be shut, pollution masks became a common sight on the streets of all major cities and farmers complained about lack of sunlight and failing crops. A study by Tsinghua University and the Health Effects Institute, published in 2016, found that "coal combustion" was "the single largest source of air pollution-related health impact, contributing to 366,000 premature deaths in China in 2013."

Another study from 2013 by the World Health Organisation put the figure of premature deaths in China due to toxic pollutants in the air at just under a million, making it the fifth leading cause for premature deaths in the world's most populous country.

Not surprisingly, the economic boom could not curtain this major flaw in China's growth model, and China quickly became the poster boy for pollution and bad air quality around the world.

However, since the peak of China's smog problem in 2013, the pollution levels have dropped statistically, and a major difference can be felt in the Chinese citizens' daily lives. Clear blue skies, breathable air and plummeting sale of smog protection masks all indicate that China's local pollution issue may be heading towards a potential resolution. A resolution fuelled by renewable technology.
Entering The Chinese Renewable Technology Boost
China's renewable energy sector has seen unparalleled growth. Currently, China is unrivalled globally when it comes to researching and developing clean energy technology. China has registered over 150,000 renewable energy patents, equivalent to 29% of all patents in the industry worldwide in 2016, and is quickly rising to become the renewable superpower. According to Lauri Myllyvirta, an energy and air pollution expert at Greenpeace Beijing, "China's renewable energy technology patent registration is useful when looking at the increasing innovation by the country."

In 2017, China was the top investor in clean energy investments. Myllyvirta comments on China's increasing innovation in renewable energy by saying, "China's role in the reduction of renewable energy prices has been immense, their investment in the sector is a key reason for that the price of solar technology and batteries has dropped globally."

China's development of renewable energy has been welcomed globally. India based climate expert and the director-general of the Center for Science and Environment, Sunita Narain, calls China's "commendable" efforts in the field of renewable technology, "a move in the right direction", She warns however that "not everything is perfectly in order right now." Narain's scepticism is justified.

Because, as China moves away from coal at home, it has increasingly pushed its engineering companies leading in coal technology to go offshore and build coal-fueled power plants in the Global South.

This duality of China's climate policy leads to an important question: "is China only investing in renewable technology advancement for future profits"?
China's Profit Oriented Renewable Model
China's investments in energy production overseas have been increasing under its ambitious OBOR scheme. According to an analysis published in the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, China has invested $160 billion in overseas energy projects through its development banks since 2000. What is important to note here is that the majority of these projects have not been renewable energy-based. An interesting statistic for a country leading the world in the sector.

In the prime years of its push for clean energy - between 2014 and 2017 - one of the major financial backers of the OBOR initiative, the Silk Road Fund, invested 93% in fossil fuels in the energy sector, according to a joint report by World Resources Institute and Global Development Policy Center.

There is a clear imbalance in China's renewable energy agenda at home and their agenda overseas. Beijing based climate expert, Alvin Lin argues that "this is a result of two factors." Although Lin insists that the "host country policy" still tend to favour coal power over renewables, he agrees that "Chinese financing institutions and companies tend to view coal power projects as lower risk and easier to finance than renewables projects."

This can be further explained with Chinese development banks, which have rich experience in the financing of renewable energy projects at home. For overseas projects, there is a noticeable difference, however. According to the World Resources Institute and Global Development Policy Center, developing countries also have a high need for financing renewable energy projects. But in total, between 2014 and 2017, the six Chinese development banks have financed less than 1% of the annual investment needed in renewable energy in the region.

Thus, it is not the "goal" of the Chinese state to fund clean projects worldwide to improve climate conditions. And why would it be? Numerous sources indicate that the falling prices of electricity from renewable technology since 2010 have caused investments in renewable technology to be driven by "competitive business models and profit motives". A further predicted fall in electricity prices by 2020 according to the latest report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency cements this observation.

Moreover, China's competitive patent registration should be seen as a profit-oriented venture investing in innovation from a perspective of commercial advantage in the future. As Lauri Myllyvirta puts it, "along with curbing its own pollution at home, China's investment in renewable technology makes total business sense. Because it puts it at the forefront of climate solutions when everyone in the future would require their expertise." This can be substantiated further with Lawrence Nord's book from 2011 on investment by pharmaceutical companies in research and development. He concluded, that investment in innovation and getting patents, gives parties "a temporary monopoly over the market, which provides excess profits."

Another important dimension regarding China not wanting to export its renewable technology abroad is the loss that its domestic coal power plants have suffered at home. This is due to China shooting past the national energy demands and also an upsurge of clean energy availability. Not surprisingly, nearly 50% of China's coal power plants faced net financial loss in 2018.

As predicted in numerous studies, coal technology to generate energy, although far from extinction, is coming to its timely end, being 'phased out'. Many coal power plants with high emission rates are potentially going to be obsolete in the coming decades. This puts China's highly sophisticated and leading heavy engineering companies at risk.

"It is true that the price of renewables is falling. Even in South East Asia where coal is abundant, coal is projected to be uncompetitive in less than a decade. This means that coal-fired power plants face the threat of being stranded assets in the near future," argues professor Kevin Gallagher, who also co-directs Global Economic Governance Initiative in Boston.

China's low drive to export its renewable technology has a lot to do with its coal technology companies racing against time to make profits. The coal industry is in direct competition with increasingly cheaper renewable technology, which is any developing country's first choice for meeting their energy needs. This is especially true since the majority of all countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement. This has direct consequences for China's economy that is heavily dependent on the export of fossil fuel power.

With China's visible double standards regarding renewable energy use at home and abroad, it is important to understand that the global repercussions of climate change remain not just constant but worsening. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2013 found that "taken as a whole, the evidence indicates that the damage due to climate change is likely to be significant and to increase over time."
Waking up from the Paris Climate Agreement Dream
The level of pollution from new coal power plants in the developing world, constructed and maintained by Chinese engineering firms is on the rise. So much so that if a 30-year lifespan for Chinese financed overseas coal plants is assumed, they will cumulatively emit more than the U.S. and China put together on an annual basis, according to a 2016 report by Boston University's Kevin P. Gallagher.

Meanwhile, China is keeping its renewable energy technology out of reach from developing countries under its 'influence'. Leaving one big loser: the climate.

The pioneer of green energy and the "ideal leader" to head the fight against climate change since the US withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement has become the main global polluter.

Although China's local action against pollution can be seen as a small step forward, the pollution through its newly developed coal plants in countries which had no such facilities earlier is a big step backwards.

Emissions from coal plants are the single biggest reason for rising global temperatures. On the one hand, a majority of the 195 countries that came together to 'save the planet', continuously fail to deliver on their promises on time. On the other hand, China is using its influence and power in developing countries for its non-renewable energy projects. It is not just turning away from its own responsibilities but also causing a big push in the wrong direction for many other countries involved in the Paris Climate Agreement. All this, while excelling in renewable energy at home.

The Paris Climate Agreement is heading for a potential failure: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report from 2018 calls for "unprecedented measures" that need to be taken now, to limit global warming to 1.5ºC.

But not everyone is giving up hope just yet. Moritz Schröder-Therre, the spokesperson of Urgewald, a German climate advocacy group, puts the onus of climate fight on to European shoulders: "All policymakers must act seriously to tackle the climate crisis", he says, "especially the ones from industrialized countries in Europe have a historic duty to reduce their countries' carbon emissions."

Talking about China's role, Chinese climate expert, Alvin Lin claims that "China can play an important role in helping the world shift from fossil fuels to renewable, low carbon energy." Although when asked for instances of Chinese investments in the Global South, Lin mentions just two "good examples of Chinese cooperation" of renewable projects. The projects are in Argentina and Abu Dhabi, both within the top 30 richest countries in the world.

Lauri Myllyvirta from Greenpeace Bejing suggests that a better "financing of renewable energy projects in developing countries by the West could make these countries turn away from coal plants."

Finally, a solution to the global issue can be found in individual citizen movements across the globe that are fighting against coal power plants and emissions on a local level.
Fending off disaster in Lamu
Back in Lamu, wielding black and red signs with slogans such as "Kenya Doesn't Need Coal" and "We're Not Fools", they marched through the city to stop the giant, 1,000 megawatts coal power plant from being built

Because of the efforts of activist organisations and protesters, the High Court of Nairobi finally halted the project. This makes Lamu one of the few communities in a developing country that has withstood the pressure from Chinese coal investments.

Omar M. Elmawi, the head campaign coordinator of the deCOALonize campaign in Lamu described his fight against the coal plant:
I come from Lamu and this is a personal fight for me. It makes me have nightmares when I read and see how coal plants and mines have affected communities living near them elsewhere in the world, I think of my family and relatives who are in Lamu and will be affected a huge deal by the coal developments. I had to be out in the streets to get my message out, to get the voice of my people and the upcoming generation to be heard. It isn't fair that the community will suffer from the negative impacts of the plant and their livelihoods will be shattered…"
Gustav Højmark-Jensen
Gustav Hoejmark-Jensen has previously worked as a sports journalist and in the field of public relations, both as a press officer with the Royal Danish Embassy in London and as a press coordinator for a large publishing house in Denmark. Gustav holds a BA in Journalism and English from Roskilde University and he is currently studying an international masters degree in financial journalism and business reporting at City, University of London.
Manas Pratap Singh
Manas is a former financial investigative reporter for an Indian broadcaster called NDTV. He has worked on several news documentary shows including 'Truth Vs Hype' as a reporter and producer, winning a national journalism award (Ramnath Goenka Award) in India for the best investigative report in 2017. After succesfully completing a year as a journalism masters student in Denmark, Manas is currently based in London. He is enrolled in City, University of London as an MA journalism student specialising in financial and business reporting.
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