President of China, Xi Jinping arrives in London, 19 October 2015. By Foreign and Commonwealth Office (China State Visit) (CC BY 2.0 or OGL), via Wikimedia Commons
Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Despite admitting China added a whopping 58GW of coal capacity this year, and admitting a few human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Foreign Policy is hailing President Xi as a world saviour because he promised to do something about climate change.
Did Xi Just Save the World?
In a little-noticed speech this week, China permanently changed the global fight against climate change.
BY ADAM TOOZE | SEPTEMBER 25, 2020, 2:23 PM
“China will scale up its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures. We aim to have (carbon dioxide) emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”
Xi Jinping’s speech via video link to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22 was not widely trailed in advance. But with those two short sentences China’s leader may have redefined the future prospects for humanity.
There’s an obvious question, of course: Is Xi for real?
There are reasons to be skeptical. Xi is not promising an immediate turnaround. The peak will still be expected around 2030. Recent investments in new coal-fired capacity have been alarming. A gigantic 58 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity have been approved or announced just in the first six months of this year. That is equivalent to 25 percent of America’s entire installed capacity and more than China has projected in the previous two years put together. Due to the decentralization of decision-making, Beijing has only partial control over the expansion of coal-burning capacity. If Beijing is actually to implement this policy, there are huge political as well as technological challenges ahead. There have been some encouraging noises about new renewable energy commitments. But the transition costs will be huge, and Beijing has to face its own fossil fuel lobby. As one commentator remarked, Chinese officials laugh when they earnestly seek advice from Europeans on problems of the “just transition” and realize that the entire fossil fuel workforce that has to be taken care of in Germany is smaller than that of a single province in China. It will be an upheaval similar to the traumatic 1990s shakeout of Mao Zedong-era heavy industry.
Though Europe will cheer Xi’s commitment, in strategic terms it underlines how awkward the EU’s position is. On the one hand, the Europeans increasingly want to stake out a strong position on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, human rights, and any geopolitical aggression in the South China Sea. Europe’s residual attachment to the United States is real. But China has now underscored how firmly it aligns with a common agenda with the EU on climate policy. The contrast to the Trump administration could hardly be starker.
Read more: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/25/xi-china-climate-change-saved-the-world%E2%80%A8/
What is wrong with the world?
Xi Jinping is operating one of the most repressive Chinese regimes since Mao Zedong, with almost daily reports of persecution of foreign journalists, human rights outrages in Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan and India with war, and brutal concentration camps in Xinjiang and perhaps also Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and who knows where else.
Xi openly reveres the murderous Mao regime as an inspiration to his “reformation” plans.
Yet one whiff of greater compliance with the Paris Agreement, not even actions, just words, and an influential media group like Foreign Policy leads with the headline that China is trying to save the world.