The recolonization of Africa by China


Joe Biden has pledged as one of his first acts as President to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, which continues to give China a pass until at least 2030. Biden’s designated envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, has stated that the existing agreement “has to be stronger.” Kerry also claims that China, though a competitor and potential adversary, will become an active partner. His rationale: “Climate is imperative, it’s as imperative for China as it is for us.”

The evidence regarding China’s commitment to Green technology, along with the press to rejoin (much less strengthen) the Paris agreement, is at best spotty. While President Trump pulled the U.S. out of Paris, the U.S. as of May 2019 had shuttered 50 coal-fired power plants since he took office, with 51 more shutdowns announced, bringing the total shutdowns since 2010 to 289 (330 once the announced shutdowns take place) and soon leaving under 200 still operating.

China, on the other hand, had 2,363 active plants as of 2019 and was building another 1,171 domestic coal plants – plus many more in Africa and elsewhere. According to a CO2 Coalition White Paper written by Kathleen Hartnett White and Dr. Caleb Rossiter, China is now using modern scrubbing technology in over 80 percent of its coal-fired power plants, there are no scrubbers at any of the Chinese-built coal-fired power plants in Africa (or likely anywhere else).

Wattsupwiththat.com also reported that India, Turkey, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, South Africa, and even EU nations are building over 700 new coal-fired power plants. NPR in 2019 reported that, according to Harvard University China specialist Edward Cunningham, China is building or planning more than 300 coal plants in places as widely spread as Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt, and the Philippines.

NPR reporters Steve Inskeep and Ashley Westerman cited Boston University data indicating that China has invested over $50 billion to build new coal plants overseas in recent years, and that over a quarter of new coal plants outside the Middle Kingdom have some commitment or offer of funds from Chinese financial institutions.

In answer to their question, “Why is China placing a global bet on coal? (given that coal plants are a 40- to 50-year commitment),” the NPR authors quoted Southeast Asia analyst Courtney Weatherby of the Stinson Center, “(I)t’s not clear when you look at the actual projects that China is funding that they are truly Green.” But that’s not totally true – China sees “green” as the color of money, and is happy to place back-breaking nooses around the necks of its borrowers.

A new report from Patricia Adams of the Global Warming Policy Foundation lambastes environmentalists (like John Kerry) as “useful idiots” who “praise the scale of Chinese ambition on climate change, while paying lip service in criticizing China’s massive coal expansion.” Adams scoffs that China does not honor its international agreements and has no intention of reducing fossil fuel consumption, quite the opposite.

But what is Africa (not to mention other developing nations) to do? The West will not fund even clean coal projects that would improve indoor and outdoor air quality over the burning of dung and wood while also providing reliable, affordable electricity for industrialization, education, and so much more. China will – and despite the heavy price, the demand for energy requires obtaining the supply by any means necessary.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) remains the world’s poorest and least modernized part of the world, despite massive mineral resources and a young, energetic population with an affinity for entrepreneurship and capitalism. Dutch economist Wim Naudé argues that, to overcome poverty, discourage terrorism, and, yes, fight climate change, Africa MUST industrialize. And that means Africa needs to have affordable, reliable electricity.

Unfortunately, U.S. and EU policies have stymied the development of African energy resources especially in the past decade. According to White and Rossiter, current U.S. policy, dating to the Obama era, opposes Africans using the continent’s abundant coal resources to fuel power plants on grounds that burning coal produces carbon dioxide and might impact “climate change.”

NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman, African Energy Chamber, reported just this week that the United Kingdom has declared it will stop support and funding to any new oil, gas, and coal projects as of November 4, 2021, the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement. The decision lines up with Green opposition to the recently announced support of the UK Export Finance’s (UKEF) for Total’s 12.88 metric tons per year Mozambique LNG export terminal in Cabo Delgado.

Ayuk had been touting natural gas as an increasing option for African power plants, boasting that Africa is home to four of the world’s top 20 crude oil producers (Nigeria, Angola, Algeria, and Libya) and that Algeria and Nigeria are also among the top 20 natural gas producers. The huge gas reserves in Mozambique are scheduled to begin production by 2024.

It is troubling,” Ayuk said, “that an aggressive foreign-funded anti-African energy campaign continues to undermine the potential of making Mozambique an oasis for gas monetization and meeting our increasing energy demands.” Despite this setback, he continued, “we must continue to be unwavering in our commitment to stand up for Africa’s energy sector, its workers, energy poverty, and those free-market values that will make our continent attractive to committed energy investors.”

In much of Africa, demand for electricity has far outstripped supply. White and Rossiter report that, “In factories, businesses, government buildings, and wealthy neighborhoods in every African country, a cacaphonous symphony of soot-spewing backup diesel engines erupts when the grid goes down, which is usually every day. According to the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, many African countries spend more on dirty backup power than on the electricity grid itself. In West Africa, backup kilowatts equal 40 percent of grid kilowatts.

In Sudan, which gets 30 percent of its energy from dams on the Nile River, diesel pumps run constantly to lift river water for irrigation, even at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles in Khartoum. In Nigeria, hotels ban guests from jogging because of the danger of breathing in the soot from their diesel backups, which kick in every few hours as the neighborhood goes dark. In Southern Africa, construction sites simply run generators all day, filling nearby streets with a noxious cloud. Even universities rely on diesels to run old, inefficient air conditioning units.

White and Rossiter boasted that American clean coal technology, as exemplified by the Turk power plant in Arkansas, virtually eliminates health hazards from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. They urged the U.S. to support proposals by African governments to import this technology, noting that, “Electrical power is the central nervous system of a modern economy and modern life expectancy. Africa’s electricity deficit translates directly into its life-expectancy deficit of 15 years per person.”

But under a Biden-Harris Administration with John Kerry at the forefront, there is little hope that the pleas of these entrepreneurial Africans will be heard. With our European allies in myopic puritanical lockstep, China, which has been given a total pass from compliance with Green demands, will have free rein to turn all of sub-Saharan Africa into a giant Chinese colony despite the environmental damage, significant debt, and only modest benefits to Africans.

  • Duggan Flanakin

    Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas. A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, "Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout."

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