China brings little to the table at COP26

Business & Technology

At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, climate activists have been disappointed with China’s unchanged long-term carbon reduction pledges and Beijing’s decision to boost coal production to cope with an immediate energy crisis. However, some analysts see increased momentum to transition China’s energy mix away from coal in the medium-term.

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China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has been on the hot seat at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this week. Climate watchers had hoped for some bold initiatives from China, but they’ve been disappointed:

  • Even before the event, environmentalists blasted the country for a lackluster “new” climate pledge which simply restated last year’s plan to peak emissions before 2030.
  • Compounding the letdown was Beijing’s resumption of coal production following recent energy shortages. News that Xi wouldn’t attend COP26 also added fuel to the fire.

However: As energy policy researcher David Fishman writes, more coal now could mean less coal later:

  • He pointed out that eliminating price controls on coal incentivized producers to resume production since they no longer operate on a loss. But in the future, a spike in coal prices won’t be suppressed, pushing the market to alternative energy sources.
  • Climate scientist Angel Hsu also noted the State Council directive to ramp up coal demands a faster transition to green energy, to better weather spikes in energy demand.

The takeaway: Coal production increases should not be read as China reneging on their climate promises. Beijing obviously doesn’t want to leave its citizens out in the cold — literally — but by some interpretations, it’s using the crisis as motivation to go green faster.