Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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If we keep buying their stuff, we can’t complain about China’s coal burning


MY wife and I have acquired the following items in the last year or two. They all have something in common.

Pair of Rockport shoes, John Lewis table lamp, BT landline telephone, Tesco electric kettle, HP laptop, Kenwood mixer, two mobile phones, Diall battery spotlight, Tesco toaster, Canon printer, pair of knee supports (I have arthritis), and a desktop keyboard.

They were all made in China. The UK imported £63.6billion worth of goods from there in 2021. There is no sign of this process stopping or even slowing down. For instance, BMW is to axe all UK production of the award-winning electric Mini and switch it to China next year.

You can’t make things these days without electricity. No surprise, then, that China has more than 1,100 coal-fired power stations, and is planning many more over the next five years.

Besides all its factories making things to send around the world, the country is trying domestically to supply washing machines and mobile phones to 20 times as many people as the UK, spread over 40 times the area.

That explains the power stations. Two more reasons for not being surprised: UK emissions peaked in the early 1970s and have been falling since; China’s increased slowly from 1970 then much more rapidly from the turn of the century. UK current proportion of global COemissions: 1 per cent. China’s share: 30 per cent.

‘[UK] Governments,’ said a BBC Reality Check item last July, ‘have been relatively successful in cutting emissions from energy. These fell by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2019, largely as a result of closing coal-fired power stations and by spending more money on solar, wind and nuclear energy.’

There was little ‘reality’ in that statement. We have been congratulating ourselves on our progress towards Net Zero while quietly shoving all the dirty manufacturing on to someone else.

 Not long after reading how we were nobly sacrificing our coal power stations there came another occasion for not being surprised: those same power stations were asked to forget closing and be on standby this winter.

The man leading China’s climate negotiations, Zie Zhenhua, has said that ‘global climate governance is facing multiple challenges and uncertainties . . . the climate policies of some European countries have shown a backswing’. You might think, perhaps, that when Russia cuts off the gas supplies which are vital to those European countries, it is no surprise that there is a backswing.

China says it is aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and bring emissions to a peak by 2030. This is confirmation of what it has said all along: its emissions will continue to grow for the next eight years.

President Xi told delegates at the recent 20th National Congress that carbon targets would indeed be implemented steadily but ‘in accordance with the country’s energy resources’. He said China would build a new energy system while continuing to promote ‘the clean and efficient use of coal’.

If we have got ourselves into a position where we have to buy stuff from China, we can’t really complain that it needs more electricity and therefore is in no hurry to demolish its coal-fired power stations, or that its share of global emissions is likely to get even bigger.

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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