China Wants to Cut Down on Coal -- And That's Bad for Global Warming

October 7, 2013

The current plan to address one of China's pressing environmental crises -- polluted urban air -- could have the unintended effect of creating other ecological catastrophes in China and beyond, says BusinessWeek.

  • Northern China's reliance on burning coal for heat and energy contributes to the heavy haze that shrouds city buildings, especially in winter, and shortens the life spans of northerners as compared with their southern counterparts by as much as five years, according to a recent study in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • In September, China's State Councilreleaseda significant new environmental target: trimming coal's contribution to overall energy output from 67 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2017, even as the country's economy and energy demand continue to grow.

Unfortunately, one scheme to limit coal burning by converting China's plentiful coal supplies into synthetic natural gas (SNG) presents a host of other ecological worries.

  • To date, China's government has approved construction of nine large SNG plants in northern and western China, which are projected to generate 37 billion cubic meters of gas each year when completed.
  • At least 30 more proposed plants are awaiting approval.
  • According to a new study inNature Climate Change, the entire life cycle of harvesting coal and turning it into gas produces from 36 percent to 82 percent more total greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal directly -- depending on whether the gas is used to generate electricity or power vehicles.

When it comes to tackling China's many environmental challenges, it's, alas, much easier to point out flaws in current government approaches than to find sustainable solutions.

Source: Christina Larson, "China Wants to Cut Down on Coal -- And That's Bad for Global Warming," BusinessWeek, September 30, 2013.

 

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