CHINA-As levels of greenhouse gases reach a new record, concerns are growing about the role of China in global warming. For years, the increase in the number of Chinese coal-fired power stations has been criticised.

Now environmental groups say China is also backing dozens of coal projects far beyond its borders.

Coal is the most damaging of the fossil fuels because of the quantity of carbon dioxide it releases when it’s burned. Last year, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached its highest level for the past 3-5 million years, according to the latest research by the UN’s weather agency, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). And last month the UN’s climate science panel said that coal must be phased out by 2050 if the world is to have any chance of limiting the rise in temperatures.

The Chinese-supported coal projects are under way or planned as far afield as South America, Africa, southeast Asia and the Balkans.

Contracts and financing for these facilities are often not fully transparent but campaign groups including Bankwatch have tried to keep track.

“You cannot be a world leader in curbing air pollution and at the same time the world’s biggest financier of overseas coal power plants,” the group’s energy coordinator Ioana Ciuta told the BBC.

The Chinese-supported coal projects are under way or planned as far afield as South America, Africa, southeast Asia and the Balkans.

Contracts and financing for these facilities are often not fully transparent but campaign groups including Bankwatch have tried to keep track.

“You cannot be a world leader in curbing air pollution and at the same time the world’s biggest financier of overseas coal power plants,” the group’s energy coordinator Ioana Ciuta told the BBC.

According to Ms Ciuta, efforts to tackle the dirty air of Chinese cities have led many power companies to limit their ambitions for coal-fired power stations in China itself and to target their technology and labour overseas instead.

“By having China invest in over 60 countries along the Belt and Road Initiative, it’s perpetuating a source of pollution that has been demonstrated to be harmful not just to the climate but also to economies,” she said.