China Bailing on Overseas Coal Should Be a Boon for Renewables

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If China puts the same financial heft behind green energy in emerging nations as it has in developing fossil fuels projects overseas, it’ll be a step change for global investment in renewables.

President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly this week that China will accelerate support to developing nations to install low-carbon energy sources as the nation also halts the building of new coal power overseas.

Even without specific details, it’s clear a pivot by China can make a huge difference. The nation’s two major policy banks alone have funded more than $166 billion in overseas fossil fuel investments since 2008, or about $12.8 billion a year, according to Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. 

That amount would have covered the combined renewable investment last year of Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Ireland, Indonesia, Hungary, Greece, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, New Zealand, Peru and Hong Kong, according to BloombergNEF data.

Coal investments by China since 2000 have totaled about $52 billion, the center’s data show.

Xi’s pairing of the coal and renewable announcements in his Tuesday speech is a recognition that even as the world enhances efforts to battle climate change, many nations require new sources of energy to power industries and pull people out of poverty.

That’ll also be good for business. China is the biggest producer of solar panels, wind turbines and hydro-power dams, and its state-owned nuclear companies are determined to export their domestically designed power plants. Leading firms including turbine maker Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co. and LONGi Green Energy Technology Co., the world’s top manufacturer of solar panels, are among those already targeting additional growth overseas.

“It’s clear that the higher level of global ambition offers China opportunities overseas to fund hydro and renewable projects,” said Michal Meidan, director of China research at the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies.

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