Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy just released the “Guide to Chinese Climate Policy 2019,” and it provides yet more support for President Trump’s reasoning regarding U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

While dressed in alarmist rhetoric (“July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded”), author David Sandalow tries to tuxedo a muddy pig. “Trends in China’s response to climate change have been mixed,” Sandalow lamely admits, before getting into the specifics.

China is continuing its coal reliance in spades. The author’s three bullets tell the story:

  • In 2018, China’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas, rose roughly 2.5 percent. This was the largest annual increase in five years.
  • In 2018, roughly 30 GW of new coal-fired power capacity was added in China (roughly 60 midsized coal plants). Capacity additions for coal-fired power plants continued at the same pace in the first half of 2019.
  • China’s public financial institutions continued to lead the world in financing new coal-fired power plants abroad (44 GW).

Then come five points to dress the pig:

  • In 2018, China again led the world in renewable power deployment, adding 43 percent of the world’s new renewable power capacity.
  • In 2018, China again led the world in electric vehicle deployment. Roughly 45 percent of the electric cars and 99 percent of the electric buses in the world today are in China.
  • In 2018, seven of the world’s nine nuclear power plants that connected to the grid for the first time were in China.
    In December 2018, the Chinese delegation played an important role in helping shape a global consensus on steps to implement the Paris Agreement at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-24) in Katowice, Poland.
  • On several occasions, including in July and August 2019, China’s leaders publicly reiterated their commitment to fighting climate change.

The first three points evidence how a centrally planned economy can violate least-cost energy principles, in part to respond to international political pressure. With its coal-dominated power sector, moreover, China’s electric vehicles are truly “emission elsewhere” vehicles.

That leaves the last two points on politics. First, with soft, voluntary commitments under the Paris accord, China (like India) can cheerlead, while requesting “cash for climate action” out of a $100 billion annual kitty.
Author Sandalow adds window dressing:

Political tensions between China and the United States escalated dramatically during the past year. Challenges related to the China-US trade war focused China’s leaders on economic stability and energy security. Some observers noted that climate change appeared to be a lower priority as a result. Others noted that the Chinese government has used its commitment to limiting emissions and acceptance of climate science to draw contrasts with the Trump administration, positioning itself favorably in the eyes of many around the world.

Yes, Trump energy policy is doing its part to weaken the international movement to cap CO2 emissions. And yes, tariffs have pushed the two nations apart. But imagine a U.S.-side carbon tax imposing “border adjustments” on China goods in the opposite policy scenario. Political tensions between the two countries would remain if not escalate.


China climate policy is “complicated and multifaceted,” concludes David Sandalow.

Yet this is clear: there is no solution to climate change without China. China’s transition to a low-carbon economy will have far-reaching consequences not just for China but the entire world.

With business-as-usual in China, as elsewhere in Asia, King Coal is undermining the Paris accord one day at a time, with years and decades of emissions being locked-in. Small wonder why the global 85 percent market share of fossil fuels shows little sign of eroding.

The grand global carbon mitigation strategy is in big trouble. Free-market wealth-is-health adaptation remains the only viable strategy to meet and defeat weather and climate extremes from any source. It is time to call off the statist climate crusade.

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