With the final sticking point being regional coal consumption control. (Which, may I add, is critical if we want to finally clean up China’s air.)
For months, high-level negotiations moved painfully slow, and it became clear public support was needed to keep the pressure on. So once again, active participants gave the negotiation a timely push. High-level elites from within governmental departments talked to the media, urging eastern regions to cut coal. The Greenpeace Beijing office released another health study modeling air pollution and health impacts from coal power plants. The media published numerous stories about the difficulties of negotiation. And more and more public voices gathered asking for lowered pollutants and less coal.
And then the highly anticipated action plan was finally released. Alongside, provincial coal reduction targets were announced by Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and Shandong. This is a decision of huge historical significance, and has the potential to take China’s coal consumption on a new path.
Beijing, the nation's capital, became the first in the country to announce a reduction in its coal consumption by 13 million tons (MT). Tianjin followed with a 10 MT reduction. Hebei, the most polluted province of China, also announced a 40 MT coal consumption reduction from 2012 to 2017. Then, Shandong, China’s biggest coal consumer announced a 20 MT coal consumption reduction.
Smoke from factories cause severe air pollution in Huolin Gol city, Inner Mongolia. © Lu Guang / Greenpeace
We may very well be ushering in a new era in which China’s eastern region witnesses an unprecedented coal consumption downfall. This downfall will not only bring air quality improvement, but also climate benefits to the entire globe. That said, considering the wide scope and severity of air pollution in China, I’m still holding out for all of the country's big coal burners to take fearless action in cutting coal consumption, and bring back clear blue skies.
The air pollution debate in China is a story of how big things can have small beginnings, of hope beyond hope. But at the heart of this is a tale of genuine people power, starting with the Chinese people waking up to the tragedy that is the gray air around them and then rightfully demanding clean air.