Understanding China’s Global Power

The Global China Initiative at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center (GDP Center) introduces a new interactive dataset that tracks Chinese overseas finance in the electric power sector. Based on data compiled from GDP Center projects, the China’s Global Power Database (CGP) tracks and displays the capacity, technology, local and national location, and projected carbon emissions of power plants financed through China’s two global policy banks and foreign direct investment (Gallagher et al, 2018; Li et al, 2020; Chen et al, 2020).

Between 2000 and 2018, Chinese companies and policy banks have invested in 777 power plants overseas at 186.5GW of generation capacity across 83 countries in the world. Of this, 106.2GW is already online, with the remainder planned into the future.

Forty percent of China’s overseas power plant capacity is in the form of coal-fired power plants; 27 percent is hydroelectric and other renewable energy only accounted for 11 percent of the total capacity. The CGP shows that China’s fossil fuel power plants are currently leading to approximately 314 million tons (Mt) of CO2 emissions per year, which is about 3.5 percent of the annual CO2 emission from the global power sector outside of China. Assuming no retirement by 2030, accumulative CO2 emission from 2018 onward from these fossil fuel power plants will reach approximately 5.9 Gigaton (Gt), which would consume 1.3 percent of the global carbon budget for a 66 percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (Rogelj, J. et al., 2018), according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report. This policy brief outlines the methodology deployed to produce these data, discusses frequently asked questions about how the database can be used, and outlines the major trends revealed to date.

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