COP 26: A suicide note written in green ink?

John Kane-Berman asks whether the China is not playing the West for fools

COP 26 and beyond: Is China playing the West for fools?

Nearly 30 years have elapsed since the first big climate change conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. During that time the proportion of global energy derived from fossil fuels has dropped from 87% to 83%, although in quantitative terms there has been an increase in the consumption of such fuels. Some 94% of all global freight by land and sea is moved by diesel engines.

Wind turbines and solar panels account for only 2% - 3% of the world’s total primary energy.

These outcomes are rather meagre given all the subsidies, regulations, and other attempts of various governments to promote “renewable” wind and solar energy to combat the global warming they believe will bring about a climate catastrophe. The 26th world conference, COP 26, which gets under way in Glasgow this week, is unlikely to make a material difference to any of the figures just quoted, still less satisfy any of the legions of greens that jet in for these affairs.

Joe Biden and Boris Johnson will be there, but their Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, will not, even though the decisions he makes on energy issues are more important than those of any other government. China now accounts for 28% of global emissions of carbon dioxide, against 23% for the United States and the European Union combined.

No major cuts by China, no chance of “saving the planet”. It’s as simple as that. China has said it will no longer finance new coal-fired power in other countries, but China is building for its own use more coal-fired plant than exists in the entire US. It is also reactivating coal plants that had been closed. All this despite the country’s stated commitment to being carbon neutral by 2060.

The country’s oil consumption is slated to double by 2040, following deals signed last year with Iran, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia. Even though China is the world’s largest producer of electric vehicles, the additional oil will enable the number of passenger cars fired by internal combustion engines to more than double to 400 million by 2040.

Not that China is not also into wind and solar in a very big way. Seven out of ten of the world’s top turbine manufacturers are Chinese, while China is also the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panel components.

British and American “green jobs” were supposed to be one of the great benefits of shifting from fossil fuels to renewables in wind and solar. But they are following earlier shifts of jobs to China. Part of the process of globalisation was the shift of manufacturing jobs from the US, the United Kingdom (UK), and other developed countries to China. This is now happening with “green jobs”, a great many of which have been exported to China, which uses cheap coal, government subsidies, and probably also forced labour, to produce the wherewithal for renewables which are then dumped upon Western markets. Although renewables are also subsidised in the West, manufacturers there cannot compete with Chinese products.

In the UK, parts of Europe, and the US, state-supported Chinese manufacturers of renewables have driven Western firma out of business.  

For all its protestations about the importance of shifting from fossil fuels to green technology, the UK is importing more and more of its nominally green technology from the country which is not only the greatest single carbon emitter on the planet, but is also increasing its carbon footprint. The UK has not so much reduced its carbon footprint as exported it to China (and elsewhere).  

China dominates “rare-earth” metal supply chains, such metals being crucial to the clean-energy technologies, including batteries and wind turbines, needed to combat “climate change”. China now accounts for two-thirds of the world’s rare earth mining, 85% of refining, and 90% of production. The US imports 80% of its rare-earth compounds and metals from China.

Inter alia, China is a major supplier of lithium, used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. Three quarters of the world’s lithium-ion batteries are produced in China.

According to a paper published last month by the Global Warming Policy Forum, “Evidence points to China having no belief in, nor intention of, adopting the decarbonisation agenda. They will supply us with the means to adopt dead-end technologies such as battery electric vehicles (BEVs), but will concentrate on more reliable ones at home. They are playing us for fools.”

The paper goes on to argue that China will encourage its competitors to use thermodynamically inferior fuels – wind and solar – to build in economic weakness and assist the West in compromising its transport and electricity infrastructure.

China “will happily continue to manufacture wind power components and solar panels for us, and it will use uncompetitive market practices to displace Western (and Japanese) competitors, and so dominate the markets for these items. In this way, China will weaken our manufacturing bases, while indulging our “green fixations” and “net zero obsessions”. In this way China will encourage the West to harm itself.

Charles Moore, a British journalist and biographer, has described what is happening as the “unilateral disarmament of the West”. He is right.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.