Chinese President Telegraphs Personal Interest In Environment, Analyst Says

Chinese President Xi Jinping signaled a personal interest in environmental protection and an intention to boost the level of China’s clean energy ambition in a speech before a Communist Party congress on Sunday, according to an analyst from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Many observers have derived from Xi’s speech that China intends to continue building coal capacity while it builds clean-energy capacity, taking a cautious approach to the transition, but CREA Lead Analyst Lauri Myllyvirta sees some subtle, environmentally friendly signals in the language Xi used in this year’s speech.

Xi’s speech, Myllyvirta says in a series of Tweets he posted this weekend, is “mostly affirming earlier lines, but ‘speed up the planning and construction of a new type of energy system’ is a new phrase and a good signal.”

References to a new type of energy system are seen in China as essential to integrating large amounts of clean energy. The word Xi used this year may be significant.

“Chinese has several words for system,” Myllyvirta says. “Xi’s ‘new energy system’ is tixi体系 which is a higher level concept than the ‘new electricity system’ xitong系统. A ‘system of systems’ if you like.”

Myllyvirta also sees significance in the level of detail devoted to environmental issues compared to other policy areas.

“Mention of things like the fishing ban on the Yangtze does reinforce the notion that Xi personally cares about some of this stuff. You’d struggle to find this level of detail in most other policy areas.”

Myllyvirta elaborated in a direct message, telling me this is a pattern with Xi.

“It’s a consistent pattern that he intervenes directly to ensure the protection of specific natural areas or ecosystems. It’s not something that has obvious political utility so that suggests that he is personally motivated to do it.”

Myllyvirta agrees with other observers that the speech essentially conveys the message that China will continue to add capacity to both its clean-energy and coal industries. China is adding clean energy faster than any other country, but not fast enough to meet demand, requiring more coal. Xi nonetheless has pledged that China’s use of fossil fuels will peak before 2030 and the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases will be carbon neutral in 2060.

“The utilization of coal industry capacity will continue to fall,” Myllyvirta tweeted, “and the excess capacity will have to be dealt with later.”

It would have been too radical for Xi to omit some references to coal, the analyst said, such as the prospective use of ‘clean coal’ technologies with emissions controls.

“Promoting the ‘clean utilization of coal’ essentially had to be in the speech given it’s firmly embedded in current 5-yr plans & energy policy. Leaving it out would have been a major break with policy, and a red flag for many party elites in the room with a vested interest in coal.”

For helping him detect the subtle messaging, Myllyvirta credits his Chinese instructor:

“Teacher Li, if you see this, see I never did my homework, but I still remember your lessons from like 2015.”

Tip Jar: If you found value on this page, please consider tipping the author.