Skip to main content

China, Japan and South Korea still backing coal development efforts in Southeast Asia, Africa

May 13, 2019

Los Angeles Times:

In the last-ditch global battle against climate change, China, Japan and South Korea have joined other industrialized nations in promising to reduce their use of fossil fuels. Yet even as they take steps to promote renewable energy at home, these three countries are facing growing scrutiny for financing dozens of new coal-fired power plants in foreign countries.

Most of the plants are being built in Southeast Asia and Africa, in emerging economies where the growing demand for cheap, reliable electricity is most easily met by coal, the single largest source of the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for warming the planet.

Analysts say that as global markets shift toward renewable sources such as solar and wind power, whose prices are falling, governments in these countries are looking abroad to protect domestic companies that manufacture coal plants and supply equipment like steam turbines and boilers.

“The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans have a lot of coal-fired power equipment that will not have a great deal of international value in another three to five years,” said Melissa Brown, energy finance consultant at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “So they’re looking to partner with countries that can move forward quickly to put new coal-fired power capacity in place.”

They have found willing buyers in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, South Africa and Bangladesh, where governments for now appear more concerned with building their economies and expanding access to electricity than with the environmental impact of burning more coal.

While demand for coal has flattened in China and declined in industrialized Western nations, its rise in the rest of Asia helped push carbon emissions up last year by 2% to the highest level ever recorded, according to the International Energy Agency.

Of about 67 gigawatts of new coal plants worldwide that are slated to receive foreign funding, more than 80% are being financed by China, Japan and South Korea, according to the advocacy group China is by far the biggest player, having supplied or pledged $36 billion for coal plants in 23 countries, according to the IEEFA. The Chinese government has provided financing from state-run banks and included many of the projects in its colossal Belt and Road Initiative, which is designed to expand Beijing’s influence through investments in strategic foreign infrastructure projects.

More: China, Japan and South Korea, while vowing to go green at home, promote coal abroad


Join our newsletter

Keep up to date with all the latest from IEEFA