Coal in China

The Ministry of Environmental Protection recently released the “2012 Bulletin on the Environmental Situation in China.” According to this bulletin, in 2012, out of more than 325 cities above the prefecture level, a mere 40% of them achieved the “environmental air quality criterion.” Out of 113 cities with a focus on environmental protection, a mere 23.9% attained the set standard for air quality.

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Zhou Rong said: “in China about 45% of PM2.5 air pollution comes from coal fuel. In order to improve the air quality in China, controlling the rapid growth of coal consumption is a must. Air pollution is the worst in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei but there is hope that within five years one hundred million tonnes or more of coal consumption can be reduced in these districts. The next step would be to spread this throughout the entire country. The dream of every person breathing clean air shouldn't take 20 years to realise."

Although this time the bulletin did not mention those cities whose air pollution had worsened since 2012, the Ministry of Environmental Protection publically announced the 10 cities with the worst air pollution for the first quarter. Among these include Shijiazhuang, Tangshan, Handan and another seven cities that are all under the jurisdiction of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei. The problems in Hebei are a microcosm of the environmental problems for the whole of China.

Hebei province is going through a period of accelerated industrialization. Construction and industry is happening at the expense of the environment. Major industries include iron and steel, dyes, building materials, petrochemicals, industrial chemicals and electricity along with other high energy consuming and highly polluting industries. In Hebei, coal has always been the primary source of energy production and consumption. Every year 300 million tonnes of coal are consumed and undoubtedly this puts an enormous amount of pressure on the air quality in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei.

According to Zhou Rong, “this kind of unsustainable industry expansion is depriving every person of their right to breath healthy air in the districts of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei. It brings with it a tremendous health cost. Doesn’t the cost of this kind of growth outweigh the gain?”

Image: The Zhuozi Mountain and the Luoto Mountain are at the borders of Wuhai City and Ordos City. There are dozens of open-pit coal mines, big and small, at the feet of these mountains. Massive waste dumps burn and release carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide in the air. © Lu Guang / Greenpeace