What if China saved the world and nobody noticed?

This is not a product of altruism; President Xi Jinping is doing it because he intends for China to dominate the critical industries of the future.

As international energy analyst Tim Buckley puts it, while China is a world leader in coal use, it is also a world leader in “wind and solar installations, in wind and solar manufacturing, in electric vehicle production, in batteries, in hydropower.” , in nuclear power, in ground-based heat pumps, in transmission and distribution networks, and in green hydrogen. They literally lead the world in all zero emission technologies today.”

And while China is not yet done with its own addiction to coal, it is taking serious steps to downsize the industry. Last year, Xi shocked the world with an announcement at the United Nations that he would stop funding offshore coal-fired power plants, effectively cutting off 70 percent of the global investment stream in the industry.

“China will step up support for other developing countries in developing low-carbon and green energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad,” Xi said in a pre-recorded video. Since then, no new coal financing has flowed into China’s vast Belt and Road global infrastructure projects.

And underlying the shift from fossil fuel to green, the planet’s largest battery maker, China’s CATL, announced this week that it would build the world’s largest new battery manufacturing plant in Hungary, an incredible 100 annual battery capacity. GWh at a cost of $7 billion dollars, to supply the burgeoning European market for electric vehicles.


The impetus behind China’s green ambition is, reasonably, self-interest.

Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute, points out that like other countries, China has identified the pressing threat of climate change. Just this week, factories across Sichuan province, including manufacturers of solar panels, cement and urea, were forced to close or reduce production after power was rationed due to hydroelectric power shortages caused by the drought.

China’s rivers are drying up as much as those in parts of Europe and North America, due to the infernal heat of the northern summer. And while this summer will fade, it’s not clear that the threat of water scarcity will.

Glacier retreat in western China is expected to reduce annual spring flows in the nation’s river system. That is why one of the largest infrastructure projects in human history is the so-called South-North China Water Transfer Project.


“There are no climate deniers in China, or at least no climate deniers who are allowed to have a voice,” says McGregor. “You can say that very easily because China’s official media is not full of climate change deniers. The Ministry of Propaganda does not allow voices that question science.”

But there’s more than that.

“They are doing this because they want to command the investment, jobs, technology, leadership and export opportunities that this brings to their economy,” says Buckley. “And they see all of these industries as global growth sectors.”

McGregor agrees: “In China, climate policy is industry policy.”

But that is making Western politicians nervous. Last month, Biden’s Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm attended a conference in Sydney alongside Australian Energy Minister Chris Bowen and International Energy Agency Director Fatih Birol. The conference was held in the shadow of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis it caused across Europe, which had become dependent on Russian gas.

Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen and US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speak in Sydney on July 12, 2022.

Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen and US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speak in Sydney on July 12, 2022.Credit:Flavio Brancalone

A key message was a warning about China’s dominance not only in the deployment of renewable technology and its manufacture, but also in the production of its basic ingredients, such as the polysilicon used to make photovoltaic solar cells and the processing of critical minerals and lithium. .

Western leaders worry that just as Europe allowed itself to be blackmailed by an energy giant in Putin, they could be setting themselves up for the same trouble with Xi in a decarbonized world. Far from worrying that China is trapped in the coal age, they fear that it will dominate the renewable future.

Granholm told the conference that the world needed to make sure that “we are not under the control of petro-dictators… [or] the thumb of those who would strategically want to control aspects of the supply chain”. At a press conference, he added that he is concerned that China is a “big foot” renewable energy technology and supply chains. “From an energy security standpoint, it is imperative that nations that share the same values ​​develop our own supply chains, not just for the climate, which is of course very important, but for our own energy security.”


Birol said that 80 percent of the world’s solar cells were produced by China and that by 2025 it would be around 95 percent. “For the whole world to trust one country for a technology that we all need is something we need to think about from an energy security perspective,” he said. “A province [in China] it is responsible for around 40 percent of world production and two factories for around 20 percent. What if there is a fire?

What he didn’t say was that there doesn’t have to be a factory fire for China’s supply lines to dry up. Another speaker was the president of Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics, Tatsuya Terazawa, who explained how his country’s supply of critical minerals and rare earths for batteries and components for wind turbines suddenly ended after a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese Coast Guard ship. . That prompted China to end rare earth sales to Japan.

“Frankly, we didn’t know we were so dependent on Chinese rare earths,” Terazawa said. “The embargo almost paralyzed entire industrial activities and rare earth prices skyrocketed.”

About a fortnight after the Sydney conference ended, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which unsurprisingly angered China. Among China’s responses was an announcement that she would end climate discussions with the US.


For years, climate cooperation between the US and China has been serious and consistent. There would be no Paris Agreement, for example, without talks between US climate envoy John Kerry and China’s top climate diplomat Xie Zhenhua.

The fact that China and the US have been able to insulate the climate of their growing rivalry was important to a world that nervously watches the tensions between the two superpowers.

Li Shuo, senior global policy adviser at Greenpeace China, says that a crucial contribution China has made is not just the billions of tons of greenhouse gases that its own deployment of green technology has avoided, but its success in reducing the cost of technology worldwide. It might make absolute geopolitical sense for the rest of the world to develop their own supply chains, but he fears it is not clear that he can achieve his decarbonisation goals without China.

“I think the jury is still out on this,” Li told the Herald this week. “In fact, we are only at the beginning of this decoupling, so I don’t think we know the answer to that question.

“Only time will tell, but the stakes are high.”

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