The Cop26 conundrum: why does China’s eco-warrior Xi Jinping keep building coal plants?

Vested interests defeated the campaign, though Xi continued to release adjusted Green figures for Zhejiang after others had returned to the normal game of GDP inflation, making his tenure look less successful by the crude metric of the day.

A key figure in that forgotten Green GDP saga, Xie Zhenhua, is now China’s top climate envoy at Cop26. It was he who pushed the concept of a modified Kuznets Curve – an inverted “U” – where CO2 emissions peak and then decline as a country reaches a threshold of economic development.

It was this Kuznets Curve that gave Mr Xi the arguments he needed to justify climate actions against entrenched opposition from the old guard. It paved the way for his famous Yingtai evening chat with Barack Obama, which in turn led to the Paris climate accord in 2015. 

It was a complete departure from China’s obstructionist role (pre-Xi) at Copenhagen in 2009, when Beijing mischievously turned it into a fight between poor countries and the West.

Jianqiang Liu from Carbon Brief says there is an unwavering green theme running through Xi Jinping’s career, up to his signature doctrine of “Ecological Civilization”, and his net zero pledge by 2060 made last year.

One should not read too much into Mr Xi’s apparent decision to skip the Cop26 summit. He is in the middle of a turbulent internal shake-up, a purge on multiple fronts. Foes are plotting to thwart his bid for a third term, and meetings of the Standing Committee in early November will be critical.

When it comes to wolf warrior diplomacy, China is its own worst enemy. Beijing has been ruffling feathers by linking Cop26 action to concessions from the West on other matters. But it is of course China itself that is at the sharp end of a “two degree” world.

Read More: The Cop26 conundrum: why does China’s eco-warrior Xi Jinping keep building coal plants?

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