Climate concerns over China coal project in Serbia
(30 Nov 2018) China's commitment to carbon reduction overseas is being questioned as they expand more infrastructure projects abroad.
In Kostolac, Serbia, a power plant complex is currently being expanded with a 715 million US dollar loan from a Chinese state bank and constructed by one of China's largest companies.
A foul smell permeated the air in the grey mining town.
People rarely opened their windows as thick smoke billows from the huge chimneys of Serbia's main coal-fired power station in Kostolac.
Chinese construction workers wearing hard hats are building a huge chimney for the new, "Kostolac B" Serbian power plant that was to be fuelled by lignite, the "dirtiest" type of coal.
It produces a huge amount of ash that has to be carefully deposited on vast fields with water sprinklers to prevent the dust from being blown into the atmosphere or the nearby Danube River.
Locals living near the Kostolac plant said that more people were getting ill and there was dust in the air.
"When we wash our laundry, we leave it to dry and then in three days you see how white laundry becomes black laundry," said Dejan Grujic, a local resident.
Zeljko Lazovic, a Kostolac power plant project manager, said that the project was built in accordance with European and Serbian environmental standards.
When US President Donald Trump abruptly withdrew from the Paris agreement on tackling global climate change in 2017, China was seen as the champion in the battle to cut carbon emissions and prevent a global environmental catastrophe.
Experts said that while China tackled pollution at home by implementing renewable energy schemes and reducing the use of by far the most polluting fossil fuel, coal, it has been pursuing a different strategy abroad.
Chinese companies are the world's largest investors in overseas coal plants.
They are currently involved in the building of about a fifth of new coal-fired energy capacity around the world, mostly in the countries along its ambitious "Belt and Road" investment programme, which the West saw as an attempt by China to globally increase its political and economic influence.
Beijing issued guidelines on foreign investments, urging environmentally friendly practices.
But a major worry was that the guidelines are not binding and that the power stations are built mostly in developing states which have low pollution emission standards, or no set standards at all.
"So far they (Chinese government) define 'green' as complying with local environmental standards, and we don't think that's enough because a lot of the recipient countries have very low environmental standards," said Huang Wei, a campaigner at Greenpeace.
"So I think it's up to China, both China and the recipient countries to lift the standard. And there has to be effort from both sides," she said.
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