When, in a country, purchasing power is threatened, political leaders, like citizens, forget their beautiful ecological resolutions. This is what the ”yellow vest” crisis in France had shown; it is what China could also show today.
In the decade of 2010, 31% of the amount invested in global renewable energy was invested in China, double of the amount invested in the United States. And in total more than 200 GW in wind power and 200 GW in solar power.
But from mid-2018 onwards, a recession began in China; more recently, the trade war with the United States, followed by riots in Hong Kong and two epidemics of which are too little known (a devastating swine fever and the first signs of a worrying human influenza).
Now determined to do everything possible to protect the purchasing power of their consumers as a priority, Chinese leaders have quietly stopped subsidizing solar energy projects and reduced subsidies for wind energy projects. The immediate consequence: investment in solar energy fell by 40% between 2018 and 2019; it now represents only 20% of global investment in clean energy in 2019, a third less than the previous year. To the point that the main company in the sector, Yingli, is in default.
More even: everything is being done to encourage the use of coal, which already supplies 80% of the electricity of the country: from January 2020, a new mechanism for setting the price of electricity from coal should even lead to a fall in the price of this electricity. And it will be strongly discouraged to build solar or wind power plants if the price of the electricity they produce is higher than that of electricity supplied by a coal-fired power plant. In addition, through the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese state-owned banks have planned to invest more than $30 billion in the construction of coal-fired power plants in more than 20 other countries in Asia, Africa, and even Europe, at the expense of renewable energy production.
The ecological consequences were immediate: China CO2 emissions from electricity production increased by 3% from 2018 to 2019. They now exceed those of the United States and Europe combined and account for more than half of global emissions from electricity generation.
Beijing defends itself by stating that the country has achieved all its ecological objectives, and by continuing to promise that the country’s CO2 emissions will decrease from 2030, by which time 20% of its energy will come from non-fossil energy. This is not impossible, thanks to nuclear power; in particular by the recent commissioning of 3rd generation reactors (Tishan 1 in June 2018 and Tishan 2 in May 2019). And many more to come. The IEA even predicts that China’s nuclear capacity will almost double by 2035. This will offset the decline in solar and wind capacity growth and will help to absorb the increase in electricity demand. But no more: if coal mining does not decrease, China’s greenhouse gas emissions will not decrease.
Like the destruction of forests in Brazil, electricity production in China affects the entire planet.
China is therefore joining the list of major polluters who are slowing down their environmental efforts by continuing to invest in coal-fired power plants. They can also be found in Europe, India and Africa. If they continue in this way, any action to address climate challenges will be in vain.
On the eve of Cop 26, it is urgent to recall these obvious facts: The transition to more positive growth must begin now. And humanity must urgently prepare to get rid of coal, and to use nuclear and renewable energies safely.
Any other subject for discussion in Madrid would be anecdotal.