Beijing to Ban Coal Burning

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - We all know that there are a number of people in this country who are not inclined to do anything to try and mitigate the impacts of climate change. These people have too often sought refuge in the notion that “if China is not doing anything, why should we?” Well, it’s starting to look like these folks might not have China to kick around much longer, when it comes to this issue.

First, there is the fact that the Chinese may not have their heads in the sand the way that we do. That idea was certainly supported by the Global Trends survey undertaken by Ipsos MORI. This survey of 16,000 people from 20 leading countries found that the US had the lowest percentage of people (54%) who understood the linkage between human activity and climate change, while China had the highest with 93%. This could have had something to do with the fact that Chinese students scored highest in the PISA Science Assessment, while students in the US scored near the bottom of the list of 35 participating countries. Then again, the US score could have had something to do with the $900 million being spent on propaganda by climate change counter movements here.
But, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, or is it that actions speak louder than words? Either way, Chinese state media just made the surprising announcement that they would be banning the sale and use of coal in Beijing by the year 2020.

According to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, the six districts of Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai and Shijingshan will stop using coal and will shut down all coal-fired power plants in the impacted area. Coal is currently responsible for 25% of the energy in the Beijing region though that number is expected to fall to less than 10% by 2017. Air pollution is cited as the primary reason behind the move. The government had already banned the construction of new coal plants in and around the largest cities. At present China is responsible for nearly half of the world’s coal consumption.

Don’t celebrate too much yet. Coal consumption is likely to continue in other parts of the country as the Chinese experience growing pains that have massively deepened the demand for energy, while bringing in widespread pollution, especially to the cities. Plans to convert coal to gas, will most likely make things worse as the process is inherently dirty and will produce more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than simply burning coal. But the implementation of major coal-to-gas infrastructure would likely shift pollution away from the big cities which is why it has gained support. The short-sighted plan is being vehemently opposed by environmental groups such as Greenpeace.

The Chinese are also planning a massive renewable energy campaign as part of a 13th five-year plan that will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45% by 2020. They’ve already incorporated 235 GW of renewable and low carbon energy generation capacity as part their 2015 target.

They’ve also initiated an emission trading pilot scheme in seven cities, in preparation for a national program that is targeted for rollout next year.

If nothing else, watching the Chinese work their way into a fully developed nation in an era of climate change has been a fascinating, not to mention, critical story for the future of the global community. They seem to move in fits and starts, taking three steps forward, then two steps back. There seems to be good news one day, bad news the next. The overall trend is a little hard to gage. The push for production-based economic growth with its enormous energy demand has a lot of momentum behind it, but the awareness of the climate issue is growing and apparently being taken seriously. At the same time, the massive amounts of pollution has put the issue front and center, and literally in front of people’s noses. Stay tuned. This promises to be a wild ride.


Image credit: x gz: Flickr Creative Commons