China’s top climate official asserts the continued role of fossil fuels for global energy security


22nd September 2023 – (Beijing) In a recent forum held in Beijing, China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, stated that completely phasing out fossil fuels is not a realistic goal and emphasized the vital role these climate-warming fuels play in maintaining global energy security. Xie’s remarks came in response to comments made by ambassadors ahead of the COP28 climate meeting scheduled for November in Dubai. Reuters obtained a copy of Xie’s speech and a video recording of the meeting.

With countries facing increasing pressure to make ambitious pledges in tackling global warming, as highlighted by a UN-led global “stocktake,” campaigners are pushing for clear targets to end coal and oil use. The COP28 climate meeting will focus on discussions related to the stocktake, with the hope of generating the necessary political will to address these targets.

Xie argued that due to the intermittent nature of renewable energy and the immaturity of key technologies like energy storage, continued reliance on fossil fuels is necessary to safeguard economic growth. He stated, “It is unrealistic to completely phase out fossil fuel energy,” and will represent China at COP28 this year.

During the 2021 climate talks in Glasgow, China played a leading role in changing the language of the final agreement from “phasing out” to “phasing down” fossil fuels. China also supports the use of abatement technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

While ending fossil fuel use may not be up for discussion at COP28, Xie expressed China’s openness to setting a global renewable energy target that takes into account the divergent economic conditions of different countries.

Xie welcomed pledges made by his U.S. counterpart, John Kerry, regarding the availability of a US$100 billion annual fund to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change. However, he noted that this amount is “only a drop in the bucket.”

China and the United States, the world’s top two greenhouse gas emitters, resumed top-level climate talks in July after a hiatus caused by US politician Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which China claims. Xie emphasised that China rejects attempts to treat climate change as a separate issue from broader geopolitical tensions between the two countries. Trade sanctions imposed by the US on Chinese solar panels remain a point of contention.

Xie warned against protectionism, which could drive up the price of solar panels and hinder the energy transition. He called on countries to avoid politicising cooperation in the field of new energy. Additionally, he reiterated China’s opposition to the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which imposes carbon tariffs on imports from China and other countries.