China’s president Xi Jinping made the announcement, that China will not build new coal-fire projects abroad, in his address on 22 September at the United Nations General Assembly. The move that could be pivotal in tackling global emissions.

China has been funding coal projects in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam under a massive infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road initiative, BRI. But it has been under pressure to end the financing, as the world tries to meet Paris climate agreement targets.

"China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad," Mr Xi said in a video recording at the annual summit. No further details were provided, but the move could limit the expansion of coal plants in many developing countries under China's BRI. 

The BRI has seen China fund trains, roads, ports and coal plants in numerous countries, many of them developing nations. For the first time in several years however, it did not fund any coal projects in the first half of 2021. 

China is also the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter and is heavily reliant on coal for domestic energy needs. Mr Xi mentioned promises made last year about China achieving peak emissions before 2030 and then transitioning to carbon neutrality by 2060.

The US Climate Envoy John Kerry welcomed the announcement, saying that he was "absolutely delighted to hear that president Xi has made this important decision". The head of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference due to be held in Scotland next month also applauded the news.

It is an announcement that China has increasingly been expected to make. However it is more a guide to policy than a hard commitment. Crucial details will need to be cleared up, for example – when will this take effect? And will it cover new power plants approved but not yet built? 

Then there is still China’s dependence on coal to be addressed. Half the coal burned in the world is burned in China. It is still adding numerous new coal power plants at home, with a lifespan of 40 to 50 years.