Energy

China Pledged To Fight Global Warming With Obama — After Buying Record Amounts Of Coal From Kim Jong Un

REUTERS/KCNA

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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China imported record levels of coal from North Korea in August not only in defiance of United Nations sanctions, but also as it officially joined an international global warming agreement.

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly ratified a UN treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions in early September. China pledged to peak global warming emissions by 2030, but only after it imported record levels of coal from its communist neighbor.

“It appears that China is interpreting the ‘people’s well-being’ as meaning North Korea should be able to export record amounts of coal in defiance of sanctions against the rogue nuclear-armed state,” Reuters columnist Clive Russell wrote in an op-ed Monday.

“China imported 2.465 million tonnes of coal from North Korea in August, the highest on record, and 61 percent above what was bought in April, the month sanctions were supposed to take effect,” Russell noted.

North Korean imports are part of a bigger inflow of coal into China in recent months as its central government shutters smaller, less efficient coal mines to get rid of “overcapacity” in its markets. It’s resulted in an uptick in coal prices and a surge of exports to China.

“China’s imports of North Korean coal are up 11.7 percent for the first eight months of the year compared to the same period last year, slightly below the 12.4 percent gain for total coal imports,” Russell wrote.

North Korea has the high-quality anthracite coal China needs for its steel and ceramic industry. It’s also blended in with lower-quality coals to generate electricity.

“So far, the big winners among coal exporters to China are Mongolia, with a 50.1 percent year-to-date increase and Indonesia at 18 percent,” Russell noted.

Environmentalists have mixed views on China. Some praised China’s pledge to peak emissions and set up a cap-and-trade system while others have been worried about the country’s continued reliance on coal power.

Greenpeace, for example, flipped out on the news new China planned on investing another $150 billion in its coal industry over the next five years. In fact, China increased its coal-fired capacity grew nearly 8 percent in 2015 — the year after Jinping promised Obama and the UN he would tackle global warming.

“There are several reasons to be skeptical about the world’s transition out of coal,” New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter recently wrote of China’s trustworthiness on global warming.

“Sure, official data suggest that the world’s production peaked in 2013. China’s coal consumption appears to have declined 3.3 percent last year,” he wrote. “But experts note that despite the new limits, there are still lots of new coal-­fired generators being built.”

China said it would close 1,000 coal mines this year and lay off 1.3 million miners and steel workers. But Porter noted these policies are often not carried out by local governments.

“To protect jobs and tax revenue from small coal mines, Chinese local governments have been known to fib when Beijing has demanded they stop producing coal,” Porter wrote. “They stop reporting production numbers but don’t shut them down.”

But Obama will likely let Chinese imports of North Korean coal slide. China’s ratification of the UN treaty is vital to making sure it goes into effect this year. The UN deal needs to be approved by 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions to come into force.

So far, 61 countries have ratified the UN treaty, representing nearly 48 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union and India are expected to ratify the treaty in October, which would give it enough support to come into force this year.

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