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Sustainable Asia

China moves away from coal overseas while global climate protests re-emerge

29 September 2021 By Khoa Tran and Chermaine Lee

A year after pledging carbon neutrality by 2060, China made another climate commitment at the UN General Assembly to stop funding coal projects overseas. Following a year of Covid-related slumber, climate protests are back on the global agenda of activists. Also, we will be launching a new audio documentary series on marine noise pollution: Asia’s Noisy Oceans. This new season will be featured on our main Sustainable Asia podcast, and in this week’s GreenBites, we will be sharing a little sneak peak of the content.

Credit: photo by United Nations Information Centres is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

China announces new halts to coal power projects overseas

A year ago, China made headlines by pledging to become carbon neutral by 2060. This year, at the United Nations General Assembly, President Xi Jinping announced the country will also stop funding coal projects overseas that contribute to the climate crisis. He said China will “step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low carbon energy.”

As the world’s largest carbon emitter, China is also the largest coal project investor in developing nations with its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Countries under the initiative include Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

Experts describe this announcement as “a historic turning point away from the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel”, as China follows the steps of its neighbours South Korea and Japan in putting overseas coal projects funding to a halt. Yet, look at China’s own internal measures, the country is actually still stepping up coal. It also did not deliver its promise in the Paris climate agreement to mitigate carbon emission, as NGOs found that state-run Bank of China was still the largest single financier of coal projects.

Critics warn that we need to know when exactly China will stop funding such projects, and whether already-approved coal power plants will be built or not. This year alone, Chinese companies injected capital in 10 new coal-fired power plant projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Indonesia, Turkey, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates. It’s also worth mentioning that half of the world’s coal is burned in China, which owns enough coal projects expecting to last up to 50 more years.

Climate protests are on the rise globally

It’s good to see some world leaders making climate pledges this week at the UN General Assembly, but so far this does not seem to appease general concerns that still not enough is being done to combat climate change. Another wave of climate protest is beginning to appear all over the world. Weeks before the UN Conference of the Parties or COP26 climate summit, activists are once again taking it to the streets demanding more drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The youth movement “Fridays for Future” planned demonstrations in more than 1,500 locations, starting in Asia in the Philippines and Bangladesh before spreading to European cities and capitals. That’s the first time a major wave of climate protest has happened since 2019, before Covid, a movement that was spearheaded by Greta Thunberg and young activists.

Though climate protests took a break at the start of the pandemic, increasing vaccination rates and countries slowly returning to pre-Covid levels of activity have now made them possible. The protests may have also been timed with a summer of extreme weather events in developed countries, and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC, releasing a report warning of further climate change related disruptions in the future.

Other events also show concerns about climate, especially when it comes to securing a future for youths. Last week, the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu formally requested from the International Court of Justice (or ICJ) to issue an opinion on the rights of present and future generations to be protected from the adverse effects of climate change, as reported in an Aljazeera article.

While advisory opinions from the ICJ may not be legally binding, they do carry legal and moral weight. After all, the ICJ adjudicates disputes between States after all, so we could expect this opinion to contribute to the development of international law on the subject of the rights of future generations. We’ve seen cases from island nations on the theme of “climate refugees” already, the issue of having to flee a country due to rising sea levels making living conditions harder or impossible.

With low populations and precarious economies, it seems that those nations have a tougher time dealing with climate change. Vanuatu, which is home to about 280,000 people, was wiped off 64% of its gross domestic product in 2015 after a single cyclone caused losses of nearly $450 million USD.

Listen to our podcast episode for more green updates for the week! Subscribe to GreenBites and our other podcasts at www.sustainableasia.co. And don’t forget to follow our social media @SustainableAsia so we can keep you up-to-date on green news.

Sustainable Asia’s podcast “GreenBites’’ is hosted by Chermaine Lee, Khoa Tran, Avery Choi and Stella Chen. Producer: Bonnie Au and Executive Producer: Marcy Trent Long Associate Producer: Rachel Li

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