China, Japan, & South Korea Lie To Themselves (& Us) About Renewable Energy Intentions

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Lip service. That’s what people call it when somebody supports an idea in public but works to undermine the very same idea in private. Others may call it hypocrisy or even out and out lying. Every major country in the world agreed to reduce its carbon emissions at the COP 21 climate summit in Paris in 2015. Yet somehow, world carbon emissions continue to rise. How can that be?

mountaintop removal coal

Simple. Several of those countries are lying to themselves and to the rest of the world community as the distance between what they promised to do and what they are actually doing grows wider by the day. The United States, under the auspices of the Trump maladministration, at least has the decency to state publicly it has no intention of honoring the commitments it made in Paris.

But China, Japan, and South Korea continue to tout their support for the Paris climate accords while directly undermining their commitments by financing the construction of coal-fired generating stations in other countries, mostly in southeast Asia and Africa, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Dumping Obsolete Equipment

“The Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans have a lot of coal fired power equipment that will not have a great deal of international value in another three to five years,” says Melissa Brown, energy finance consultant at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “So they’re looking to partner with countries that can move forward quickly to put new coal fired power capacity in place.”

There are about 67 gigawatts of new coal plants scheduled to receive foreign funding in countries around the world — particularly in Indonesia, Vietnam, South Africa and Bangladesh. According to, more than 80% of them are being financed by China, Japan, and South Korea.

Belt & Road

China has embarked on its massive Belt And Road initiative, designed to promote Chinese business interests in other countries. According to Forbes, “The ‘belts’ refer to railroads that will connect China with Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Central and Southeast Asia. The ‘roads’ refer to maritime routes and multiple ports that will be expanded or built along the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and South Pacific. The participating countries account for 30% of global gross domestic product and 44% of the world’s population.” China has supplied or pledged $36 billion for coal plants in 23 countries, according to IEEFA.

Trading Coral Reefs For Coal

Here’s an example of lip service in action. Last September, the LA Times says South Korean President Moon Jae-in made a big show of telling the United Nations his country plans to slash carbon emissions and “assist developing countries’ pursuit of sustainable development.” Two weeks before that speech, a South Korean construction company signed a $1.3 billion agreement to build two huge coal-fired power plants near the coastal Indonesian village of Suralaya, which is located less than 70 miles from the smog-choked capital. The signing took place at an investment forum sponsored by the government of South Korea.

The story gets worse. The land for the new coal-fired plants is being created by moving earth from a nearby mountain and using it to bury a coral reef. “There’s a clear preference for coal power in Indonesia, and that’s why the East Asian financiers are here — it’s a really attractive business proposition for them,” Adhityani Putri, executive director of Yayasan Indonesia Cerah, a policy research group in Jakarta, tells the LA Times.

Profits & Politics

Why the constant push for coal generating stations? Profits and politics. The Indonesian utility grid is controlled by PLN, an arm of the government. Indonesia has massive coal reserves. Do the math. Perhaps “profits and politics” will be a fitting epitaph after the combination of the two leads to the extinction of the human race.

Joojin Kim, managing director of Solutions for Our Climate, says the fact that Korean banks are financing coal projects in Indonesia is “embarrassing and financially risky, because of air and climate pollution and corruption associated with the plants, and the fact that coal power is no longer a cheap source of energy due to continuously declining renewable energy prices. An accountable and transparent bank would not linger around risky projects like Java 9 and 10.”

Exporting Emissions

Nor should national governments in China and Japan be exporting carbon emissions to other countries. There is only one atmosphere and it is no respecter of national boundaries or political ideology. With the cost of renewables falling on an almost daily basis, propping up fossil fuels is a dangerous and self defeating policy.

That it continues proves the lie that underpins all current capitalists theory in which no accounting is included for the cost of the waste products created. Corporations and governments are only concerned about the next quarterly earnings call or the next election. Neither takes into account what will happen when there are no people left to buy things or to govern.

For now, they are content to continue paying lip service to lofty ideals while continuing to plunder the Earth for profit. We can all see how this movie ends, can’t we?

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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