BEIJING — Pakistan’s Thar region is a swath of desert in the country’s south long associated with poverty, drought, famine — and coal.
Now, with some help from China, it could soon power the country.
China has signed billions of dollars in agreements with Pakistan to help the country alleviate its chronic energy shortages, primarily by burning coal. New projects will involve mining billions of tons of the fossil fuel annually in the region — home to some of the world’s biggest coal deposits — and building five new coal-fired plants to help power Karachi, a metropolis of 20 million people about 300 miles away.
Yet critics say they could also fill the country’s air with noxious smog for decades, exacerbating already intense public health crises and contributing to climate change.
China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has in recent years emerged as a global leader in climate action. The country’s use of coal — considered the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change — has dropped every year since 2013, as its investments in renewable energy, especially wind and solar, have soared.
California Gov. Jerry Brown will travel to China this week for an international summit on clean energy, underscoring the country’s growing role as a center of gravity in fighting climate change.
Yet China’s domestic progress belies a spottier record abroad. It is the world’s largest exporter of coal-related financing and equipment. Its state-owned companies — backed by state loans and hampered at home by tightening environmental regulations — are involved in nearly 100 coal-fired power projects abroad, in countries including Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mongolia and Iran.