Demand for it has surged in the last decade, but the end of coal could be in sight. Beijing plans to ban the burning of coal in its six central districts from 2020. According to the official Xinhua News Agency, in 2012, 25.4 percent of the capital’s energy consumption was from coal, and it’s hoped that it will be less than 10 percent by 2017. If even energy-hungry China shuns coal, others will surely follow.
There’s certainly a problem. On January 12 2013, the air quality recorded by the US embassy in Beijing was so bad as to be “beyond index” – that afternoon, it was 728 on the PM2.5 scale which ends at 500. This measures particularly harmful particles of less than 2.5 microns in diameter. Over 150 is “unhealthy” while more than 300 is “hazardous.” The end of coal is highly desirable.
Beijing’s Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection revealed the city’s intentions on Monday 4 August 2014. Gaojing, one of four large, coal-fired power stations, was closed the month before. The others will be turned off by the close of 2016, with two kept functional in case of emergency. Four new gas-fired plants and pipelines to bring gas to the city from Shaanxi province are being constructed. Smaller factories and heating plants that burn coal will be shut or relocated by 2020.
Per a report in 2013 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, vehicles are the greatest source of air pollution in Beijing – 31.1 percent of the deadly particulate matter that results in the city’s infamous smog, with coal coming second. Dust storms also play a part.
Nevertheless, the end of coal in China would be a massive turnaround. The country is responsible for half the coal burned in the world each year. Coal was behind 25 percent of the world’s energy production in 2000 and now accounts for 30 percent, with China responsible for 82 percent of that.
There’s public support for the move thanks to the smog that shortens people’s lives by years. The picture has improved. New coal-fired plants were banned in the vicinity of smog-ridden Guangzhou and Shanghai. The growth in coal consumption in China was 18 percent a year 10 years ago but is under three percent now. China is now in the habit of introducing anti-smog policies, its economy is less reliant on energy-intensive industry and eventually, investment in renewables, nuclear power and energy efficiency will make their mark.
The end of coal is in the interests of the Chinese government. Recently, it stated that environmental protection was one of the top criteria by which leaders will be judged.
Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”