Worst power shortage in two decades is squeezing Chinese leaders between U.N. climate expectations and need for stable supply of energy
By Sha Hua and Keith Zhai for the Wall Street Journal Oct. 26, 2021
Starting in late September, China’s top leadership began holding a series of emergency meetings.
An energy crisis had started to engulf the country, propelled by high coal prices. And it wasn’t affecting just factories. Social media showed cars in northeastern China driving on pitch dark roads, people eating dinner by the light of their cellphone and families trapped in elevators that had suddenly shut off.
Fears of a prolonged energy shortage and a winter of discontent were growing.
The scramble by Chinese leaders to address the crisis over the past month coincided with Beijing’s preparations for a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, highlighting China’s challenge balancing international pressure to speed up its shift away from fossil fuels and the need to keep the supply of energy stable at home.
Major climate declarations Beijing had planned ahead of the summit were delayed as leaders worried about laying out ambitious climate plans to a global audience at the same time that the country tries to ensure there is enough coal to heat households in winter and keep factories going, say people familiar with the discussions.
China published part of its road map for how to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality before 2060 on Sunday, less than a week before the Glasgow summit. China’s climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, had told his European counterparts the road map would be unveiled in early October, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Eager to appear a major player in the battle against climate change, China often times its climate pledges around international gatherings. President Xi Jinping said at a summit in the spring that China will start reducing its coal consumption after 2025. At last year’s U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Xi changed the date for when China’s carbon emissions will peak from “around” to “before” 2030. Some advanced economies have been asking China to move the date forward even further.
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Chinese President Xi Jinping participated in a video summit on climate change in April.
Photo: FLORENCE LO/REUTERS