The argument that we should not combat climate change before China acts is an argument that is becoming more and more redundant. In recent years, the world’s most populous country has emerged as a world leader in clean energy. There are now arguments to confirm that they’re in fact doing more on this issue than many western developed countries and are edging very close to pass the magnificent milestone of one terawatt (TW) of installed clean energy capacity.
But while coal is still rife in China and is dominating the electricity sector, things are changing and news has surfaced that in 2016 alone, China will close a staggering 1,000 coal mines. That is significant in the battle to deal with climate change and represents a huge amount of coal that won’t be mined and therefore, won’t be burnt.
China is the world’s top coal consumer, but demand is rapidly declining due to a shift to cleaner energy sources and a slowdown in economic growth. While China remains a huge coal producer and currently has a staggering 10,760 coal mines in production, the 1,000 coal mines that the Chinese government is aiming to shut down this year will prevent the mining of 60,000 tons of coal. In addition, a new government policy will ban all coal mines that produce less than 90,000 tons of coal annually and therefore they will also, eventually, be required to close. This will affect just over half of China’s coal mines (5,600) and on top of that China will block any new coal mine approvals for the next 3 years in order to control production.
Part of the reason why these measures are being enforced is due to the fact that China currently produces a lot more coal that the country needs. Last year 3.7 billion tonnes of coal was produced, which created an estimated capacity surplus of 2 billion tonnes per annum.
So while China’s war on coal primarily has been to address air pollution and climate change issues, this latest move seem to be for economic reasons and to stabilise an industry that for years has suffered from overproduction.
While coal is set to dominate the electricity sector for decades to come in a country that is the world’s largest CO2 emitter, this latest move signals a significant direction change of how China is diversifying the electricity production. And one thing is for sure, countries that are producing much more coal than they can consume such as Australia and the US, should not rely on China as an export market in the years to come.