india coal power plant

Emissions from Chinese-backed power plants equivalent to whole of Spain

Image credit: DT

The carbon emissions from power plants funded by Chinese investment total 245 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 per year - approximately the annual energy-related CO2 emissions from the entire country of Spain or Thailand, research has found.

A policy brief from Boston University’s 'Global Development Policy Centre' (GDPC) estimated that the emissions generated from the China-backed facilities could consume 1.7 per cent of the global carbon budget needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

The findings come from GDPC’s China’s Global Power (CGP) Database which tracks power plants outside of China that are financed through Chinese investment and loans.

The facilities cumulatively generate 171.6GW of electricity across 1,423 power units (representing 648 power plants) in 92 countries around the world.

Some 113.5GW is already operational, with an additional 58.1GW under construction or planning.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced in September 2021 that China would stop supporting the construction of coal-fired power plants overseas, while likewise promising to scale up support for clean energy.

Nevertheless, coal represents the greatest share of generation at 34 per cent of the capacity of the overseas power units, followed by hydropower (29 per cent), gas (18 per cent), solar and wind combined (12 per cent).

Remaining energy sources such as oil, nuclear, biomass, geothermal and waste constitute 7 per cent combined.

Fossil fuel projects, particularly coal and gas, account for more than 50 per cent of the operational capacity and this trend is expected to continue for projects that are currently under construction.

Despite Jinping’s pledge, a study in February found that China has continued to invest in coal-based power plants and steel facilities at “alarming rates” which makes climate goals more difficult to achieve.

However, the majority of projects that are at the planning stage are low-carbon energy sources, including 11GW of hydropower and 5GW of solar and wind power.

Of the 72 Chinese companies that have directly invested in the power generation sector, the top ten companies are all state-owned enterprises which have contributed to 76 per cent of the total capacity.

Asia has received the most loans and investment - funding some 90GW of generation - with a high concentration of fossil fuel-based power-generating capacity, particularly coal-fired projects. The Americas (34GW) and Africa (25GW) follow.

Hydropower is mostly distributed in the Americas, Asia and Africa. Solar and wind projects span the globe, with the Americas the largest recipient region (6.6GW).

Chinese finance in Europe and Oceania is primarily focused on natural gas, nuclear and other non-hydro renewable energy projects.

The median year of commission for oil, coal and gas plants is 2016, meaning that more than half of these plants are six years or less into their lifetime. Fossil-fuel based power plants typically operate for decades and the annual and cumulative lifetime carbon dioxide emissions from these plants will contribute to global climate change.

Cecilia Springer, a GDPC researcher, said: “China’s overseas power portfolio is still dominated by coal and large-scale hydropower, indicating that China can do more to implement its pledge to step up support for green and low-carbon energy in developing countries - especially wind and solar power.”

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