After years of investing in coal power in other countries, China announced an end to building coal-fired plants abroad.

The Challenge

China has directed billions of dollars into coal power in other countries over the past decade, largely as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), its massive, international infrastructure development project. During this period, the country ranked as one of the world’s largest funders of overseas coal-based energy, along with South Korea and Japan.

At the same time, the science is clear: Electricity generation must be low-carbon to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

WRI’s Role

Through research, partnerships and engagement, WRI supported China’s shift toward green development.

WRI started tracking China’s overseas infrastructure investment and its impacts in 2018. In 2019, the organization became a founding partner of the BRI International Green Development Coalition, bringing together environmental expertise to encourage the Belt and Road initiative to foster long-term sustainable development.

With partners, WRI published Green Development Guidance for BRI Projects Baseline Study Report in 2020, which was endorsed by China’s Minister of Ecology and Environment. WRI and partners then consolidated a comprehensive database on China’s overseas power investment and circulated several briefings on Chinese stakeholders’ roles in overseas power investment.

WRI also convened different actors inside and outside China, sustaining high-level engagement with the environment minister, chair of the BRI Coalition, and other participants. WRI convened dialogues bridging stakeholders in China and host countries, equipping them with WRI’s research and insights. WRI also convened a series of neutral, consultative workshops for these stakeholders to understand each other’s priorities.

The Outcome

At the UN General Assembly in September 2021, China announced it will support green energy development and stop building coal-fired power stations abroad. Three days later, the Bank of China pledged to end funding for overseas coal power and coal mining projects. More concrete action is expected from policymakers and investors in the coming months and years.

China's commitment represents a historic turning point away from coal, and will likely affect at least 54 gigawatts of China-backed coal power projects. It signals that the firehose of international public financing for coal may be closing.