By Lily Kuo and Michael Birnbaum
Chinese officials reported Monday that their coal production surged to its highest level in years, the same day that officials in India’s capital readied a shutdown due to air pollution, a one-two punch from the developing world that showed the difficulty of combating global warming just after the end of a landmark U.N. conference.
The burst of bad news for the climate coincided with a Monday virtual summit between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where Biden planned to enlist China’s help in averting a drastic worldwide temperature rise.
But the recent boost in coal production by the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter shows Biden may have little leverage over the developing world’s use of fossil fuels, analysts said. Spurred by high natural gas prices, Beijing appears to be readying to burn dirtier, cheaper coal to ease its citizens’ economic pain as cold weather sets in.
This dilemma was on full display Saturday, when China and India seized hold of climate talks in their final hours to weaken language calling for phasing out fossil fuels. The tactic gave the two major emitters extra runway to keep burning coal, and drove some seasoned climate negotiators to tears.
“China, like every other country in the world, is not only trying to minimize carbon emissions but also trying to balance that with economic needs,” said Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and an economics adviser to the Obama White House.
“Sometimes in climate discussions, we fall into a trap of thinking that countries are only trying to minimize emissions. That’s not true,” he said. “They’re trying to balance between economic growth, local air pollution and avoiding disruptive climate change.”