The Chinese government's new plan to improve air quality in the Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong regions will significantly slow down growth in China's coal consumption.
China's plan, published on 12 September, includes a ban on approving new coal-fired power plants in key economic regions that currently have 30% of the country's coal-fired power generation capacity, and is accompanied by ambitious targets to cut coal consumption in three key provinces.
Responding to the announcement, Greenpeace UK Executive Director John Sauven, commented: 'China's pollution problems have often been used by foot-dragging world leaders as a fig leaf to cover their own failure to properly address carbon pollution, but plans to curb coal usage revealed today in both China and the US leave Europe's dithering decision-makers with less space to hide.'
The action plan requires China's most polluted provinces to 'strive to achieve a negative coal increase' in five years. Three provinces, Beijing, Hebei and Shandong, have already undertaken to reduce coal consumption by 73 million tonnes, or 10% from 2012 levels, by 2017.
These three provinces consumed more coal in 2011 than the whole of the European Union. Shandong is the largest coal consumer among Chinese provinces and Hebei the fourth largest. The provinces have seen coal consumption grow at 6% a year, so the absolute reduction targets require a rapid and dramatic reversal of the coal consumption trend. More coastal provinces are also expected to make their respective announcement following the national plan.
'China's political leadership has set an ambitious timeline to solve China's air pollution crisis, responding to the mandate set by the Chinese public, especially in the heavily polluted cities around Beijing' said Li Yan, climate and energy campaign manager at Greenpeace East Asia.
'Coal accounts for around 80% of China's CO2 emissions. When the most developed provinces are required to cut back their coal burning, China's total coal use growth will slow down compared to earlier expert projections boosting efforts to curb CO2 emissions, responsible for climate change' Li Yan said.
The ban on new coal-fired power plants covers China's most important coal importing regions, the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta, responsible for more than 50% of thermal coal imports. With the power sector the main importer of coal, this will very significantly curb future import demand.
Greenpeace recently published research showing that coal-fired power plants in the surrounding provinces contribute more to air pollution deaths in the capital region, than the region's own power plants. Therefore, it will be necessary to limit coal consumption in other areas as well.