China to Invest $31 Billion in ‘Clean Coal’

China’s state-run Global Times on Thursday announced the creation of a “special relending facility worth $31.6 billion to support the clean and efficient use of coal.”

Chinese industry burns a titanic amount of coal and is burning even more than usual at present to cope with a major energy crisis, to the growing displeasure of climate activists.

The Global Times described the new initiative as a down payment on moving “about 2 trillion yuan ($315 billion) of capital support from commercial banks toward clean energy projects as China beefs up efforts to meet its carbon goals.” 

The program described by the Global Times is, in essence, an announcement to Chinese banks that they can access $31 billion for the purpose of lending it to clean coal developers. Beijing is supposedly also making funds available to borrow for “wind power, hydropower, solar power, nuclear energy, and new-energy vehicles.”

“However, these companies must have made some achievements in their industry before they apply for the special refinancing fund in order to avoid ‘greenwashing,’” Wuhan University of Science and Technology financial studies director Dong Dengxin told the Global Times.

Dong’s comments suggest the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is growing sensitive to – or at least annoyed by – complaints from activists that its highly-touted, big-ticket environmental projects tend to be symbolic efforts, and a great deal of the ostentatiously earmarked funding never really goes to environmental projects at all.

“Greenwashing” was a major complaint from activists at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, this month, although the protesters were mostly irate at Western capitalist enterprises attempting to buy off the climate change movement, or exploiting it for marketing purposes. 

Climate activists are rarely so stern with Communist China, which is far and away the world’s worst polluter. China single-handedly accounts for more than half of the world’s coal consumption today.

The announcement carried by the Global Times will be an interesting test of the climate movement’s patience because the movement is not terribly enthusiastic about “clean coal” as a solution.

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dismissed clean coal technology as an outright “scam” in October.

“It’s a scam in this sense that the fossil fuel sector talk about clean coal, and they talk about carbon capture and storage as a means of not doing what we need to do, which is stop burning fossil fuels. I can say this as somebody who thought it had great prospect, you know, 15 years or so ago. But it failed, and we should work on the technologies that do work,” Turnbull said.

Ardent critics of greenwashing might also note that China is merely announcing the availability of funds that could be borrowed for clean coal projects, without any guarantee the money will actually be borrowed and used.

Director Lin Boqiang of Xiamen University’s China Center for Energy Economics Research suggested on Thursday that climate activists should accept the clean coal initiative as the best China is likely to offer for the time being, given its reliance on a vast network of coal-fired power plants for its energy needs.

“We have to live with the fact that China can’t get rid of coal in the near future, so it is crucial to fund new technology to make it less polluting. Firms with better solutions to either improve coal quality or cut emissions should be given such preferential loans,” Lin said.

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