Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to the United Nations on Tuesday that China will no longer build coal power plants in other countries, making a broader appeal for multilateral cooperation amid rising tensions with Washington.
The announcement, contained int a pre-recorded speech by Mr. Xi to the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, amounts to a policy reversal by China and appears to indicate that Beijing has yielded to months of pressure from the Biden administration to step up its efforts to battle climate change.
The Chinese leader more broadly struck a conciliatory note, largely sidestepping policy questions and recent events that have raised tensions with Washington.”One country’s success does not have to mean another country’s failure,” he said at one point. “The world is big enough to accommodate common development and progress of all countries.”
Mr. Xi had previously vowed to eventually wean China off its own domestic use of coal for electricity generation. But Beijing in recent years has pushed ahead with billions of dollars worth of financially lucrative coal power plant construction projects in developing nations around the world.
The British-based monitor CarbonBrief has reported that China opened three-quarters of the world’s newly funded coal plants in 2020 and accounted for more than 80% of newly announced coal power projects, according to Agence France-Presse.
In April, Li Gao, head of the climate change office at China‘s Ministry of Ecology and Environment told reporters: “We cannot simply say that we’ll stop supporting coal-fired electricity plants in developing countries.”
Mr. Xi reversed couse in his U.N. speech Tuesday. “China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low carbon energy and will not build new coal fired power projects abroad.”
His remarks come weeks after former Secretary of State John Kerry, now the Biden administration’s special climate envoy, engaged in reportedly tense talks with Chinese officials during a visit to China.
Chinese officials have said they’ll strive start cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve so-called carbon neutrality by 2060 — vows Mr. Xi, himself, reiterated in his remarks Tuesday. However, Mr. Kerry is reported to have pushed for bigger commitments during the recent visit to China.
A New York Times report on the visit said U.S.-China tensions on other fronts had spilled into Mr. Kerry’s climate meetings with Chinese officials, and that Chinese officials had warned the former secretary of state that political ill will could undermine cooperation going forward.
During a subsequent conference call with reporters, the paper reported, Mr. Kerry said he had told his Chinese counterparts: “‘Hey look, climate is not ideological. It’s not partisan, it’s not a geostrategic weapon or tool, and it’s certainly not day-to-day politics. It’s a global, not bilateral, challenge.’”