China Is Swallowing A Bitter Pill And Trying To Cut Its Coal Use
The Chinese government is swallowing a bitter pill, forcing both its local provinces and the industries that are domiciled there to reduce their pollution levels. The moves are needed to both improve living standards and to lift the nation’s standing in international commerce.
The smog is so bad in China that it has covered cities while disrupting airline flights and seaport operations, all of which has upended daily lives and business. Part of the issue is the current over-reliance on coal, although the government is trying to transition to sustainable fuels to not just clean its cities but to also comply with the Paris climate agreement to which it has committed.
China has instituted a three-year action to limit pollution levels, with Shanxi and Shaanxi becoming the latest two provinces to be enlisted, reports Reuters. They produce more than 900 million tons of coal a year, or a quarter of the country’s total while also being a major developer of gas and petrochemicals, the story adds. That region is second only to Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei.
The news agency obtained a document that said thermal power, steel, petrochemicals, non-ferrous metals and cement makers will be compelled to comply with at least 25 new emissions standards by October. Coking coal, or that coal used to make steel, will have an additional year to comply.
All this is on top of a pledge made last year that imposed strict pollution requirements on coal production and industrial output. Companies are forced to clean up or shut down. But doing so will help them get their products into such outlets as WalMart, Target and CostCo that have strict policies when it comes to what gets on their store shelves.
Inspection crews are now monitoring factories in real time. The Chinese Ministry of Environment has been sending inspectors to provinces around the country and have charged 80,000 factories with criminal offenses, says National Public Radio.
“China is now trying to reduce the impact of its policies on its economy and industry by revising its aggressive capacity-cutting targets,” Laura Wood, senior manager for Research and Markets adds. “Longer term, the country remains intent on establishing an energy landscape where clean energy takes the lead.”
The United States and China, together, produce about 42% of all CO2 emissions. In this country, totals are falling because of the coal-to-gas transition. And China has reported that it has met its 2020 carbon intensity objectives ahead of schedule. According to Reuters, it cut its 2005 carbon intensity level, or the amount of heat-trapping CO2 it produces per unit of economic growth, by 46% in 2017.
Key to the effort is China’s commitment to reduce its reliance on coal — now at 66% of its electric generation portfolio. Its immediate aim, however, is to reduce that percentage to 59% and to increase the use of natural gas to 7.5%. Sustainable energy, meanwhile, is on track to rise from 10% of the country’s electricity mix today to 15% in 2020 and by 2050, it will be 30%. Hydropower is second only to coal in terms of electricity generation.
China is part of the Energy Transitions Commission that is working to get all countries to reduce their carbon emissions. It will still be using coal fired power. But it will be using it to a much lesser extent. And what few people realize, is that it will be retiring their older and less efficient coal plants and it will be running more efficient coal-fired plants.
“China’s clean-energy power companies, including solar, nuclear and wind stand to gain as the 13th National People’s Congress reaffirms the country’s commitment to a cleaner environment,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Miranda Wang, said in a Bloomberg news report.
Beyond improving its air quality, China also has an economic interest in becoming more sustainable: major U.S. retailers are seeking to cut their carbon footprints and as part of that effort, they are tracking their suppliers and making similar demands on them.
WalMart, for example, will work with suppliers to reduce emissions by 1 gigaton by 2030, equivalent to taking more than 211 million passenger vehicles off of U.S. roads and highways for a year. Moreover, the company will use a combination of energy-efficiency measures and renewable energy to achieve an 18% emissions reduction in its own operations by 2025.
Target, meanwhile, is also active in the climate discussion and is enlisting its suppliers, some of which originate overseas: “At Target, sustainability is a principle that drives the decisions we make across the company – from the products we make to the way we run our business,” adds John Leisen, vice president of property management at the retailer.
China, no doubt, must continue its coal use to industrialize its economy. But its efforts to clean its act are taking shape, which mean improving the efficiencies of its coal generation and adding more sustainable fuels — moves that will ingratiate it with global retailers that are demanding more of their suppliers.