Chinese officials have previously promised to cut back on their use of coal but practical concerns have prevailed. China is using more coal, which means more coal is being mined there.
Since then, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has emphasised this tendency to go all-in on coal in his address at the opening of the Chinese Communist Party Congress, an important occasion that happens every five years.
Xi spoke on coal:
“We will advance the clean and low-carbon transition in the industry, building, transportation, and other sectors by promoting the use of clean, low-carbon, and high-efficiency energy. We will progress the energy revolution significantly. Greater efforts will be made to discover and produce petroleum, while coal will be used in a cleaner and more effective manner.”
Such political remarks are frequently loaded with cues. This one reference of coal serves as a reminder that prior attempts to lessen China’s reliance on coal were unworkable. However, it is hinted that deviation from those plans won’t matter much because coal consumption will get “cleaner and more efficient” going forward.
Xi’s remarks on October 16 about energy often make sweeping, audacious statements about future practice and policy. But there is a provision attached to such remarks.
One of the most significant of Xi’s October 16 policy statements is his recommendation for future energy policy.
“We will pursue programmes to attain peak carbon emissions in a well-planned and gradual approach in keeping with the idea of constructing the new before discarding the old,” Xi added, referring to China’s abundance of energy and resources.
Xi has made it clear in just that one statement that China’s economic and environmental concerns should be taken into account before any other practical reasons. Xi admitted that China will make policy decisions based on real-world conditions, which will take precedence over previously specified pledges that may actually be challenging to execute, by articulating a strategy of “creating the new before destroying the old.”
And since “creating the new before dumping the old” is a basic rule, it applies to all situations, not only those involving carbon emissions.
This is not to imply that Xi has avoided making grand promises in any manner in his repeated allusions to China’s energy strategy for the future.
He actually addresses a variety of energy-related issues. There will be “planning and development of a system for new energy sources.” Nuclear power will be produced in an “active, safe, and orderly way,” while hydropower development will be balanced with ecological preservation.
What does Xi, however, offer in regards to climate change, which many believe to be an existential threat to humanity?
It is true—not much. In reality, Xi makes only one reference to climate change in a 72-page report that has significant implications for his party, his people, and most definitely the outside world: “We will get actively involved in global governance in response to climate change.”
In reality, China is already “engaged in global governance” on climate change concerns thanks to the influence it has garnered throughout the UN, rendering Xi’s claim at best untrue.
Along with this, Xi pledged to “accelerate the R&D, promotion, and application of advanced energy-saving and carbon emission reduction technologies, encourage green consumption, and promote green and low-carbon ways of production and life,” all the while “better controlling the amount and intensity of energy consumption, particularly of fossil fuels, and transition gradually toward controlling both the amount and intensity of carbon emissions.”
These don’t sound like the comments of a man who is dedicated to making significant reductions in carbon emissions or who feels a pressing need to do so. In fact, they resemble the words of a guy who believes it is unnecessary to make specific commitments on these matters.
Up until this point, the international community has allowed China to cause shocking environmental destruction, and has even encouraged it. Many countries have exported significant portions of their own harmful environmental practices to China, which China accepted as the cost of its own economic comeback. Many people in China, including, it would appear, Xi Jinping, believe that criticising China today for environmental policies in which both parties cheerfully participated is at the very least inappropriate and, at the very worst, hypocritical.
In the end, Xi discusses a variety of energy sources in his speech to the Party Congress, including coal, natural gas, hydropower, and nuclear power. Chinese lists are always arranged from greatest to smallest, or most important to least important. Xi indicated his personal support for China’s sustained use of coal for an indeterminate period of time by placing it first on his list of energy-related subjects to discuss in a crucial segment of his speech, consumption that is currently at historically high levels.
Given that Xi Jinping was recently elected to a third term as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and is almost certainly going to be re-elected as president of China in March 2023, his support for coal solidifies coal’s position as a major component of China’s energy production mix for at least the foreseeable future.
Note that Xi made no mention of wind or solar energy in his address. The CCP said it will make sure that “the vast ship of socialism with Chinese characteristics catches the wind” and that China must be “ready to resist strong winds.” This was the sole mention of wind.