MADRID (Reuters) - Former U.S. vice president and longtime climate campaigner Al Gore urged China on Thursday to stop financing coal power plants at a meeting with the lead climate negotiator for the world’s second-largest economy at U.N. talks in Madrid.
China is financing more than a quarter of the world’s coal-fired power plants being built outside of its borders in countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam and South Africa, a study found earlier this year.
“It would redound to China’s everlasting credit if this policy of financing the construction of so many new coal plants in other countries could respectfully be reviewed and reconsidered,” Gore told a small crowd at China’s booth.
“Perhaps the traffic light that is now showing green could blink yellow and then blink red. And decisions might be made in favor of alternative sources of energy in the way China finances development in other countries,” he said, speaking alongside China’s lead negotiator Zhao Yingmin.
Responding on behalf of the Chinese delegation, He Jiankun, a Tsinghua University professor and government climate advisor, said Beijing was moving away from coal investments abroad in its massive Belt and Road programme.
“Now China increasingly from a policy perspective is building a green Belt and Road and no longer encourages building coal power plants,” he told Reuters.
Domestically, he said, while new coal plants were being built, others were being taken offline and China’s overall coal consumption will fall, he added.
Chinese financial institutions have committed or offered funding of $35.9 billion for 102 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power now being developed outside the country, according to a report earlier this year by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a U.S.-based think-tank.
The world’s biggest energy consumer had been investing heavily in alternative fuels domestically amid a drive to cut greenhouse gas emissions as well as smog choking urban areas.
But now with its domestic economy slowing, even that drive to cut coal has waned with 42.9 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity being added in the 18 months to June and another 121.3 GW under construction, a November study found.
That compares with 35 GW of coal-fired power added in 2017 and 38 GW in 2016.
Gore, a Democrat who wrote “An Inconvenient Truth” about the climate crisis, also said he hoped China and the United States could work closely at next year’s U.N. climate summit, implying he hopes the U.S. election will bring a new government.
Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne