Coal-Fired Power Plants

Chinese companies play a significant role in the development, construction and financing of coal plants around the world. With the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, these activities have been a focus of growing research and commentary.

  • One study found that Chinese financial institutions supported construction of
    more than 50 coal-fired power plants abroad between 2001 and 2016. The authors estimate that these power plants release almost 600 million tons of CO2 per year (more CO2 than all but seven countries in the world) and that if these plants operate for 30 years on average, lifetime CO2 emissions from the plants will be almost 18 Gt (roughly half of global emissions in 2017).30

  • Another study found that between 2000 and 2014, Chinese government entities spent roughly $100 billion on high-carbon projects abroad (coal, oil and gas) and roughly $60 billion on low-carbon projects abroad (mainly hydro).31

  • In the first half of 2018, media outlets reported on Chinese support for new coal power plants in many countries, including Serbia, Bosnia, Kenya, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Vietnam.32

  • One study found Chinese involvement in more than 100 coal-fired power plants in planning or under construction in Belt and Road countries as of May 2017. (This included consulting, design, equipment exports, construction and financing.)33

  • Another study found Chinese coal plant developers behind 68–76 GW of new coal- fired power plants currently in the planning pipeline abroad.34

Chinese support for new coal-fired power plants under the Belt and Road Initiative is controversial. Some argue that new coal plants are inconsistent with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, that renewable power is now cheaper than coal in many locations (especially when health and social costs are included) and that Chinese companies are helping lock in decades of CO2 emissions outside China’s borders. Others argue that coal-fired power is an essential development tool in some countries and that Chinese companies help limit emissions by ensuring that new coal plants use modern, efficient technologies.35



30. Kelly Sims Gallagher, “The Carbon Consequences” (2016); “BP Statistical Review of World Energy” (June 2018) at p.49 (country emissions data), statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2018-full-report.pdf.

31. Isabela Neuweg, “What types of energy does China finance with its development aid?,” London School of Economics (June 21, 2018),

32. “Chinese firms overseas bring Belt and Road windfall,” Global Times (May 23, 2018),; Francesco Martino, “China Goes to Serbia,” Osservatorio (January 23, 2018),; Nefeli Tzanetakou, “China-Balkans: A ‘win-win’ relationship that harms the environment,” Independent Balkan News Agency (May 24, 2018), environment/; Frederick Kuo, “A new coal war frontier emerges as China and Japan compete for energy projects in Southeast Asia,” South China Morning Post (April 2, 2018), article/2139667/new-coal-war-frontier-emerges-china-and-japan-compete-energy; Somini Sengupta, “Why Build Kenya’s First Coal Plant? Hint: Think China,” New York Times (February 27, 2018), https://www.nytimes. com/2018/02/27/climate/coal-kenya-china-power.html; Moneeb Ahmad Barlas, “The Mysterious Corridor,” Daily Times (June 6, 2018),; “Bangladesh signs deal with China to set up coal-based power plant,” Reuters (May 7, 2018), bangladesh-power/bangladesh-signs-deal-with-china-to-set-up-coal-based-power-plant-idUSKBN1I80XR.

33. Ren Peng, Liu Chang and Zhang Liwen, “China’s Involvement In Coal-Fired Power Projects Along The Belt And Road,” Global Environmental Institute (May 2017) at p.1, 5,’s_ Involvement_in_Coal-fired_Power_Projects_OBOR_EN.pdf (106 new coal-fired power plants under construction or in planning pipeline as of May 2017).

34. “Database: Companies on Coal Expansion Course” (accessed July 7, 2018),; Hiroko Tabuchi, “As Beijing Joins Climate Fight, Chinese Companies Build Coal Plants,” New York Times (July 1, 2017),

35. David Sandalow and Xu Qinhua, “Belt and Road Initiative Green Development Conference,” Columbia University and Renmin University (November 19–21, 2017), BRIGreenDevelopmentConference.pdf; Sagatom Saha and Theresa Lou, “China’s Coal Problem,” Foreign Affairs (August 4, 2017),; Kara Sherwin, “China Is Outsourcing Its Pollution,” Foreign Policy (December 7, 2016), is-outsourcing-its-pollution/; “New Coal Plants Endanger the Planet,” Urgewald (June 29, 2017), sites/default/files/inline-files/New%20Coal%20Plants%20Endanger%20the%20Planet_3.pdf.

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