For more than two decades, Zimbabwe has been trying to break ground on a giant coal-power complex near the world’s biggest man-made reservoir. Now, China has agreed to get the $4.2 billion project underway.

The development, near the southern shore of Lake Kariba, is good news for Zimbabwe, where a collapsing economy and erratic policies have deterred foreign investment for the past 20 years.

But it flies in the face of a growing global consensus that has seen financial institutions from Japan to the U.S. and Europe shun investments in coal projects. That retreat leaves the way open for Chinese companies — many with state backing — even at the risk of undermining the spirit of China’s international commitments to fight climate change.