While Climate Czar John Kerry was in Beijing in September, according to the New York Times, President Xi pointedly stated in the official People’s Daily that China will follow its own timetable regarding emissions reductions. “The pathway and means for reaching this goal, and the tempo and intensity, should be and must be determined by ourselves, and never under the sway of others.”
Most recently, and before the COP 28 meetings in Dubai in November, China’s top climate official, Xie Zhenhua, said, “The complete phasing out of fossil fuels is unrealistic.”
China is doubling down on coal consumption and coal power plant construction. China already has more greenhouse gas emissions than the developed world combined, at 33 percent. China accounts for 53 percent of the world’s coal consumption and is headed towards an even larger share. In contrast, the United States accounts for only around 6 percent of global coal consumption, a number that has been dropping fast.
The Biden Administration is presently constraining new investments in fossil fuel exploration, use, and production. Coal-burning plants to produce electricity are viewed as a particularly bad actor, to be eliminated entirely by virtue of both regulatory curbs on emissions and sizable subsidies to close plants and “go green.” Meanwhile, China permitted six times more new coal plants in 2021–2022 (106 Gigawatts or 100 new plants) than the rest of the world combined. That meant permitting an average of two new coal-fired power plants a week!
While China imports vast crude oil and related products from Russia and the Middle East, it is also expanding into a new $10 billion refinery and petrochemical investment with Saudi Arabia as the supplier of nearly 500,000 barrels of crude oil daily to produce the higher value-added petrochemicals and derivatives that are ubiquitous to modernity everywhere. In yet another deal with Saudi Arabia, a new petrochemical facility in China will be supplied with an additional 200,000 barrels per day. By virtue of its ever-increasing crude oil purchases and its lack of a climate change obsession, China is a reliable, long-term customer for Middle East oil-producing nations. It has thus become a mover and shaker in the economics and politics of the Middle East, engaging seamlessly between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Make no mistake, China, with oil coming increasingly from Russia and the Middle East, could also become the leading refiner and petrochemical supplier in the world, both for itself and for export to the rapidly growing Asian market. It is a very close second to the United States in refining today and in expansion mode, while the United States is not “permitting” new refining capacity. Note: Solar and wind have little or nothing to do with producing civilization-sustaining petrochemicals, but solar and wind electricity-generating facilities make extensive use of them.
In sum, this is not China weaning off fossil fuels by any stretch of the imagination.
With oil and gas as long-term common ground, and in unprecedented fashion, China brokered a ‘peace deal’ between Saudi Arabia and Iran and is even conducting joint military exercises with a U.S. ally, the UAE. Saudi Arabia is in discussions with China over building a nuclear power plant. The relationship between the Middle East and China is symbiotic over fossil fuel energy.
The climate change agenda of the Biden Administration simply does not fit well with the prime wealth-creator and lifeblood of the Middle East, oil, and China is taking advantage of that reality. Oil producers see a large and expanding market for their products in China and the developing world, and related business arrangements are overriding concerns about climate change.
All this is shifting the global geopolitics writ large.
Developing countries pay lip service to climate change as they expand their consumption of fossil fuels. Also, if the West subsidizes them with wind and solar generation, of course, they will take the free facilities.
At the G20 Summit in Vietnam, President Biden called climate change “scarier than nuclear war.” This is not only a highly debatable presumption, but it’s clear China, Russia, and the still-developing Global South do not share that view. What is scary is a China-Russia-Iran axis in the Middle East, aligning against the interests of the United States and Israel.
China is an “all-of-the-above” energy producer and consumer. That means all fossil fuels, plus nuclear power with thirty-five new plants permitted, massive hydro, and world-leading solar and wind energy production, deployment, and sales. Also, no matter how much solar and wind energy is deployed, a constant source of backup generation, primarily fossil fuels, will be needed in the case of China.
Between satisfying the needs and desires of its 1.5 billion people and its ambition to overtake the United States economically and militarily on the world stage, energy is paramount. That means climate change is simply not their priority, at least not for the foreseeable future.
The Biden Administration is spending and subsidizing hundreds of billions of taxpayer and printed dollars to try and impact the global climate, all the while increasing the price of energy (the main cost of goods and services driving inflation) for American citizens. And to what end?
Expansion of coal burning by China and increases in fossil fuel consumption in developing countries like India, Indonesia, and the “Global South” vitiate America’s greenhouse gas reductions. Substantially increased coal burning in China, along with their giant appetite for oil, gas, and refined product consumption, plus natural disasters—like the fires in Canada, Maui, and volcanoes—dwarf greenhouse gas reductions in the United States and make those very costly reductions, gratuitous.
For America and other countries of the West, present climate change policies are in dire need of change.
Don Ritter holds a Science Doctorate from MIT and served fourteen years on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce and Science and Technology Committees. After leaving Congress, he created and led the National Environmental Policy Institute. He has written extensively on energy and climate change.
He was a National Academy of Sciences Fellow in the USSR. He speaks fluent Russian and was a Ranking Member of the Congressional Helsinki Commission and founding Co-Chair of the Baltic States-Ukraine Caucus. He is a Trustee of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and Museum.