New York Times writer Eduardo Porter lays out the case for why environmentalists shouldn’t be so quick to believe China and other developing countries when they pledge to ditch coal-fired power: the stakes are too high.
Porter argues China’s economic success largely hinges on cheap, abundant energy from coal-fired power plants, and even though China promised President Barack Obama it would “peak” emissions by 2030, it’s not clear they can be trusted to do so.
The stakes are even larger in China. It is the world’s largest consumer of coal — burning as much as every other country combined. After years adding coal-fired generators at breakneck speed, the government in Beijing finally acknowledged the public health costs and ordered limits on new construction.
Yet even as environmentalists welcome the decision as a watershed in the transition out of the world’s most polluting fuel, striking coal miners have taken to the streets, protesting unpaid wages and government plans to cut 1.3 million coal jobs out of a total of nearly six million to reduce overcapacity as the country’s growth slows.
There are several reasons to be skeptical about the world’s transition out of coal. Sure, official data suggest that the world’s production peaked in 2013. China’s coal consumption appears to have declined 3.3 percent last year. But experts note that despite the new limits, there are still lots of new coal-fired generators being built.
To protect jobs and tax revenue from small coal mines, Chinese local governments have been known to fib when Beijing has demanded they stop producing coal. They stop reporting production numbers but don’t shut them down.
Porter echoes the concerns mainly brought up by Republican lawmakers who oppose Obama signing onto the United Nations global warming treaty. Obama plans on formally joining the treaty in September when he heads to China for the G20 summit.
China is expected to formally ratify the treaty as well, but experts have been criticizing China’s two-faced environmental policy for some time.