An Empirical Analysis of the Environmental Performance of China’s Overseas Coal Plants

China’s ongoing commitment to overseas infrastructure investment through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has ignited concern over environmental impacts. The BRI’s environmental impacts will be determined by China’s decisions not only on what kinds of projects to fund, but also how those projects end up operating relative to projects without Chinese involvement. It is therefore critical to understand current performance and establish a baseline understanding of the environmental impacts of China’s overseas projects thus far.

In a new Environmental Research Letters journal article, Cecilia Han Springer, Sand examined the environmental performance of coal-fired power plants in Asia in terms of carbon dioxide emissions intensity. Using generating unit-level data and a regression-based analysis, the authors estimated the comparative emissions intensity of overseas coal plants owned, designed, or constructed, by Chinese and non-Chinese companies.

Springer, Evans and Teng found that Chinese coal plants tend to have significantly lower emissions intensity than similar non-Chinese coal plants. Given that total emissions rather than relative emissions intensity primarily drive the global warming impact of a plant, they also estimated total annual emissions and committed lifetime emissions of the plants in their accompanying dataset. The authors found that while Chinese plants may have relatively lower emissions intensity, their total emissions will grow as a proportion of the coal plant emissions in Asia over time.

Read the Journal Article