Is green agenda playing on the side of China?


Through substantial investments, China is rapidly gaining a dominant position in various domains crucial for global energy transition. Meanwhile, European governments subsidize the fossil industry with billions annually, often through tax benefits. This actually hinders our transition to and investment in sustainable alternatives.

The argument that taking too drastic measures to address the climate crisis would harm our international competitiveness is often used. This view is too one-sided. We should also consider the geopolitical consequences of subsidizing the fossil industry instead of investing this taxpayer money in the green energy transition.

Currently, we are already dependent on China for solar and wind energy, traction batteries, and many raw materials essential for a sustainable future. China has recently shown its willingness to use this dominance as leverage, with restrictions on the export of germanium and gallium in response to our export restrictions on chip technology.

Enormous investments

With the Critical Raw Materials Act, the European Union also acknowledges the future dependence on China in crucial aspects of the energy transition as a problem. However, China continues to make massive investments to maintain and expand this dominance. To face this challenge, we need to critically assess how we ended up in this weakened position.

It’s sometimes said that only an authoritarian state like China can enforce the enormous changes needed to combat climate change. This appears to be an incorrect conclusion because in our society, it is often undemocratic forces that play a significant role in impeding the green energy transition. Consider the influence exerted by the fossil industry on our politicians and how fossil companies have undermined the public debate for decades by sowing doubt about climate change.

Civil Disobedience

Climate activists often see inadequate climate policies as a violation of the social contract, meaning that the government fails in its core duty to ensure the safety of its citizens, justifying acts of civil disobedience.

This argument gains strength when we look at the effect that the close ties between our politicians and the fossil industry already have on our national security. Recent research by NRC showed that at the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, Shell’s interests in Russia were paramount for the Dutch government. This contributed to the weak stance towards Russia after 2014 and our continued dependence on Russian energy.

Cunning Strategy

When looking at China, the geopolitical dimension of our choices becomes even clearer. China has been following a cunning strategy for decades to acquire a dominant position in the upcoming energy transition through investments in green technologies and gaining control over the critical raw materials. And they are making strides: this year, Chinese investments in global extraction of these raw materials are estimated at around $17 billion (almost 16 billion euros), doubling from the previous year.

This isn’t idealism; it’s power politics because China continues to invest in fossil energy. Regardless, despite China’s current economic challenges, we face a future dependence that has significant consequences for our international power position.

Democratizing the Debate

Finally, in the West, this is beginning to be realized, and in the Netherlands, several think tanks are working on how to counter this Chinese dominance. However, some democratization of this debate is necessary because thinking about geopolitics and security amid the looming climate disruption is too important to leave solely to the government and a handful of specialists.

Climate activists can make a valuable contribution by daring to question the corrupting influence of the fossil industry on our politics. Their proposal to reach decisions on energy transition through a citizen assembly could be a way to reduce this influence and democratize the debate.

In response, the government seems to focus on criminalizing peaceful climate activists. However, it would be better to listen to their message and think about a geopolitics in which our security is no longer undermined by the interests of the fossil industry.