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Xi Absent From G-20 Climate Talks; China Plans to Increase Short-term Coal Reliance While Sticking to 2060 Carbon Neutrality Goal

A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: November 1, 2021
People wear protective masks as they stand at an observation balcony at the China World Mall, overlooking the Central Business District during a day with air pollution on March 14, 2021 in Beijing, China. (Image: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

This year’s G-20 Summit held in Rome on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 saw U.S. President Joe Biden criticize China and Russia for “basically not showing up,” expressing disappointment that the two high polluting nations did not send their leaders for in-person appearances. 

The president said that world leaders had otherwise made “tangible progress” on the most pressing matters regarding environmental concerns, focusing on climate change and curbing carbon emission. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed these concerns, telling the opening ceremony at the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow: “humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It’s one minute to midnight and we need to act now.” 

Emphasizing the threat of climate change, he described the world as being strapped to a “doomsday device.” 

“If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow,” he said.  

Chinese leader Xi Jinping addressed the summit via video link on Oct. 30, thanking world leaders for coming together to address environmental, economic and health concerns and highlighting the importance of acting in solidarity for a shared future. Xi also promoted Beijing’s approach to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. 

China, which produces more greenhouse gases than all other industrialized countries combined, has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. But it’s doubtful whether Beijing will be able to achieve this goal, especially since practical demand for fossil fuels, particularly coal, remains high.    

The COP26 summit opens as China undergoes an energy crisis with soaring coal prices causing fuel shortages and blackouts across many provinces. Reuters reported that more than 70 percent of China’s coal-fired power plants are now operating at a loss because of rising costs and supply tightening. 

As coal is used to generate approximately 70 percent of China’s electricity, thousands of residents have been left without power to heat their homes — a shortage that could prove deadly in the country’s frigid northern regions.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) responded to the crisis by ordering mine operators to “produce as much coal as possible” in an effort to ramp up production and stabilize rising costs ahead of the coming winter months. The NDRC also announced that electricity would be rationed during peak hours and ordered some non-essential factories to suspend production.

The Climate Council Organization notes that not only does coal release massive amounts of pollution when mined, it also emits toxic and carcinogenic substances into the air, land and water — severely affecting the health of miners, workers and surrounding communities.

Although Beijing pledged to not build any more coal plants and pushed for existing coal mines to curtail production earlier this year, the energy crisis has forced the world’s largest polluter to halt these efforts. The crisis has further highlighted the challenges that the developing nation faces in order to curb its massive carbon footprint and make good of its promise to the world.