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When I went back to China this summer after my first year living outside of China in a decade I was not sure what I would find. The US press reporting on Chinese pollution had been so uniformly negative that I was not sure if somehow immediately after I left Beijing the improvements that had been taking place since the 11th Five Year Plan began in 2006 had suddenly stalled. What I found was quite to the contrary – new regulations that come into effect in 2014 are driving massive upgrades of the power sector and transforming the energy supply in central cities.
It is common knowledge that China burns a large amount of coal, with the fuel accounting for nearly 70% of China’s primary energy consumption in recent years. What is less commonly known is that China is also working on ways to reduce the impact of its coal use, including aggressively pursuing research and demonstration of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology.
Last month, China’s State Council announced a new action plan to combat air pollution, which included a prohibition of new coal-fired power plants in the three most important metropolitan areas around Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou (known as the “key-three city clusters”).1 This followed a previous announcement of a $275 billion investment by the central government in improving air quality. The action plan aims to tackle the increasingly severe air pollution problem in China, which is largely caused by its massive consumption of coal.
China has recently announced a plan to tackle air pollution across the country. The plan includes setting regional targets on coal use and taking high-polluting vehicles from the streets. The plan also sets target levels for regional atmospheric pollution, with particular attention paid to reducing particulate matter, which is an especially severe problem in China.
Building on the joint statement released by President Obama and President Xi in June, the two leaders have released another joint statement on the phase down of hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). The recent joint statement shows that next steps will involve the creation of “an open-ended contact group to consider all relevant issues.”
ChinaFAQs experts from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have projected that China’s coal use will peak in 2020 due to increasing energy efficiency and slowing energy demand. As ChinaFAQs expert Ailun Yang discussed, the continued expansion of coal in China faces many problems, such as economic problems with the power sector, strict control of energy prices, and the rising public concern over health and environmental impacts. In addition to these already substantial challenges, rising coal use in China will also run into substantial obstacles in the form of water stress.