April 22, 2021

Despite Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge that his country will reach “carbon neutrality” by 2060, “serious decarbonization remains a distant prospect,” argue Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel Collins in Foreign Affairs. “China remains addicted to coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. It burns over four billion metric tons per year and accounts for half of the world’s total consumption.” 

Furthermore, the authors find the use of coal-fired power plants in China dramatically expanded in 2020, warning that the ongoing investments in coal are evidence that China will remain reliant on it for decades to come.  

“When it comes to climate change, the United States should compete, not cooperate, with its rival,” the authors contend. “A cooperation-first approach in which Beijing sets the fundamental terms is doomed to fail. Countries seeking cooperation with China are supplicants and, under a best-case scenario, will be forced to make concessions first, after which Beijing might finally deign to engage.” 

This article is part of the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, which will be released in full on April 20, 2021. 


Andrew Erickson 艾立信 (@AndrewSErickson) | Twitter

Andrew S. Erickson is Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.