FP: China’s Belt and Road is a “Silk Road with Green Energy”

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Foreign Policy Magazine fantasising about China rolling out a green energy revolution via its Belt and Road initiative, like it is already happening.

Welcome to the Era of Competitive Climate Statecraft

In trade, finance, development, and security, governments are racing to get closer to net-zero.


2020 wasn’t only the year a pandemic hit the world; it was also the second hottest in history. Regions around the world faced wildfires, droughts, severe weather, and much more. The magnitude of the COVID-19 challenge should have brought nations together to cooperate and coordinate action. However, in many cases, the varying and shambolic responses illustrate the global system’s dysfunction when seeking to respond to a worldwide crisis. Will climate change be a different story?

The U.S. government along with the private sector can unleash and harness an effective ecosystem to support advanced innovation, build employment opportunities in the burgeoning renewable energy and climate space, and further the competitiveness of its high-tech clean energy sector. The challenge is not technological availability—though the deficits remain great, especially in funding new clean energy technology to scale—but gathering the political will and economic support to move forward.

China is not holding out for an improved relationship with the United States; rather, it seeks to advance the state’s role in the economy beyond the control it currently exerts, and it aims to develop strategic technologies. Two terms being used within China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, which spans 2021-2025, are “technological independence” and “indigenous innovation,” suggesting China is looking to challenge dependence on imports to achieve decarbonization while at the same time bolstering its position as a major exporter of advanced clean energy technologies. The Belt and Road Initiative, China’s massive international infrastructure investment project, is another focus, creating a Silk Road with green energy. China is leveraging its already well-tested economic statecraft into competitive climate statecraft, which it can use by manufacturing and selling the green technology the world needs to meet all its net-zero pledges.

Read more: https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/02/08/welcome-to-the-era-of-competitive-climate-statecraft-united-states-china/

Back in the real world, China through their “Belt and Road” project and private banks are financing well over 200 coal projects worldwide.

As for domestic coal, China has not actually stopped mining coal. What they are attempting to do is gasify the coal at source, shifting the pollution away from their big cities

China’s Risky Gamble on Coal Conversion

January 9, 2020 By Richard LiuZhou Yang & Xinzhou Qian

While China is projected to fulfill its Paris commitment to reduce the proportion of coal in its energy mix to below 58% by 2020—a full 10 years ahead of schedule—the country remains the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. As Chinese policies have curbed coal-fired power out of air pollution and climate concerns, the coal industry and subnational governments have searched for alternative sources of coal demand. Thus, we have seen a slow but steady rise of various coal conversion industries.

China is the only country to implement coal conversion at scale, turning coal into coke, fertilizer, and other chemicals (see Figure 1). Since 1998, China’s central and local governments have alternatively pushed forward and pulled back the development of modern coal conversion industries such as coal-to-oil and coal-to-natural gas. But as of 2017, China’s central government has incorporated coal conversion into national planning, releasing the “13th Five Year Plan for the Demonstration of Coal Processing and Utilization.” This first national strategic document on coal conversion development stipulates that coal conversion must become more environmentally viable.

Read more: https://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2020/01/chinas-risky-gamble-coal-conversion/

The narrative China is presenting to the world is the “coal conversion” projects are not really about energy, they’re about producing chemicals.

Leaving aside the obvious question – what is the market for all those millions of tons of additional chemicals – the reality is China has massive gas shortages. So it seems likely that in the near term at least, a lot of that “converted” coal will end up in their domestic and industrial gas pipelines.

Either way, China is still consuming all the coal they can dig up, and funding hundreds of coal projects in other countries. From the evidence I have seen, the idea that the focus of belt and road is green energy is a total fantasy.