News / Asia

    China Approves Massive New Coal Capacity Despite Pollution Fears

    FILE - The sun is seen behind smoke billowing from a chimney of a heating plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi province.
    FILE - The sun is seen behind smoke billowing from a chimney of a heating plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi province.
    Reuters
    China approved the construction of more than 100 million tons of new coal production capacity in 2013, six times more than a year earlier and equal to 10 percent of U.S. annual usage, flying in the face of plans to tackle choking air pollution.
     
    The scale of the increase, which only includes major mines, reflects Beijing's aim to put 860 million tons of new coal production capacity into operation over the five years to 2015. Such an increase is greater than the entire annual output of India.
     
    While efforts to curb pollution mean coal's share of the country's energy mix is set to dip, the total amount of the cheap and plentiful fuel burned will still rise.
     
    The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China's top planning authority, approved the construction of 15 new large-scale coal mines with 101.3 million tons of annual capacity in 2013.
     
    “Given that China's total energy consumption is still growing along with the economy, then coal production will continue to grow,” said Helen Lau, senior commodities analyst with UOB Kay Hian in Hong Kong.
     
    “While China is trying to foster consumption from other sources like hydro and nuclear, we expect actual coal production to grow 2-3 percent a year in the next five years,” Lau continued.
     
    Chinese coal production of 3.66 billion tons at the end of 2012 already accounts for nearly half the global total, according to official data. The figure contrasts with production rates of just over 1 billion tons each in Europe and the United States.
     
    Much of China's new capacity is in regions like Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi, reflecting a strategy to close small mines in marginal locations like Beijing and consolidate output in a series of huge “coal industry bases” that will deliver thermal power to markets via the grid.
     
    While expanding output at such bases, China has shut more than 300 million tons of old capacity in the last decade. However, critics say new mines are rapidly outpacing closures and the policy merely shifts China's environmental problems elsewhere.
     
    “Despite the climate change pressure, water resource scarcity and other environmental problems, the coal industry is still expanding fast in northwest China,” said Deng Ping, a campaigner with environmental group Greenpeace in Beijing. “The scale of these coal bases has been rarely seen in other places in the world, with open-cast coal mines, coal power plants, and coal chemical plants all combined together.”
     
    The list of approvals does not cover all mines launched in 2013, with many smaller projects under the purview of local authorities and not the central government. According to rules issued in December, coal mines producing more than 1.2 million tons per year need Beijing's go-ahead, while local governments can approve the rest.
     
    It takes the NDRC months to announce new mine approvals, so other projects may have been passed in the fourth quarter. One 46 million-ton mine was approved in December but the NDRC has yet to publish details.
     
    An NDRC spokesman was not available to comment.
     
    Tackling Smog
     
    With major cities hit by smog last year, the government has promised to ease its dependence on coal, a major source of air, soil and water pollution as well as climate-warming emissions.
     
    It has issued guidelines to restrict mining in residential areas, improve quality and reduce overcapacity. However, coal remains cheaper than all the alternatives and China is the world's biggest producer as well consumer. It is also far more reliable than intermittent energy sources like hydropower or wind.
     
    The 2011-2015 plan stated that around 860 million tons of new coal production capacity will be brought into operation, as well as 300 more giga-watts of coal-fired power, twice the total generation capacity of Germany.
     
    While Beijing said in September that it would cut the share of coal in its primary energy mix to “less than 65 percent” by 2017, down from 66.8 percent in 2012, consumption will still rise in absolute terms, with total energy demand set to grow 4.3 percent a year over the 2011-2015 period.
     
    “The replacement of coal hasn't been as fast as expected, and other sources of energy are not only expensive but also face a lot of technical and environmental problems,” said UOB's Lau.
     
    The government's 2011-2015 energy plan put coal production capacity at 4.1 billion tons by 2015, but Lau said it may be much higher.
     
    “We estimate China's total coal production capacity will be 4.7 billion tons by 2015 - I think the government figure is a big underestimation,” said Lau.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora