China’s coal industry needs a scrub, says the IEA

China’s annual coal production has been growing so quickly recently (200Mt) that it its growth almost matches Russia’s total production. Chinese demand is so strong that the country is witnessing the largest expansion of coal-fired power generation capacity in history. All this has been fuelled by and has helped fuel the economic expansion that has improved standards of living in China and many countries around the world. But that is where the niceties end in the latest major report by the International Energy Agency, the rich countries’ watchdog. That is because all this growth has come at a significant cost.

Since 1997, China has produced an additional 2.2bn tonnes of carbon emissions annually, making it the world’s leader in this ignominious category. The country also emits more sulphur dioxide than any other nation and its coal adds to NOx emissions.

But China’s coal industry’s death toll not only lies in a theoretical number of people who will some day suffer the fatal side effects of climate change. China’s mines are notoriously dangerous and poorly regulated, trapping and killing workers with shockingly regularity. So China has much cleaning up to do, according to the report, whose many recommendations include: improving safety, upping regulatory oversight, scrapping subsidies, allowing foreign technology to help, pricing carbon and improving transparency. In fact, it is not so much new laws that China needs, it is the implementation of existing ones that will make the biggest dent, at least initially, the IEA says. “China will need to decide for itself how to proceed, but its actions, more than those of any other country, will shape the global approach to the cleaner use of coal urgently needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” the IEA said in its Cleaner Coal in China report made public today.

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