China clean air plan to slow coal consumption, curb coal imports

Press release - 2013-09-12
Beijing – The Chinese government's plan to improve air quality in the Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong regions will significantly slow down China’s coal consumption growth, setting an important precedent that should be broadened in China, and that other major economies should follow, Greenpeace said.

The plan includes a ban on approving new coal-fired power plants in key economic regions that currently have 30% of the country’s coal-fired power generation capacity and is accompanied by ambitious targets to cut coal consumption in three key provinces.

"China’s political leadership has set an ambitious timeline to solve China’s air pollution crisis, responding to the mandate set by the Chinese public, especially in the heavily polluted cities around Beijing. The targets can only be met by tackling China’s coal consumption growth and the plan takes very important steps in that direction," said Li Yan, climate and energy campaign manager at Greenpeace East Asia.

The action plan requires the country's most polluted provinces to “strive to achieve a negative coal increase” in five years. Three provinces, Beijing, Hebei and Shandong, have already pledged to reduce coal consumption by 73 million tonnes, or 10% from 2012 levels, by 2017. 

The three provinces consumed more coal in 2011 than all of the European Union. Shandong is the largest coal consumer among Chinese provinces and Hebei is the fourth largest. The provinces have seen  coal consumption grow at 6% a year, so the absolute reduction targets require a rapid and dramatic reversal of the coal consumption trend. More coastal provinces are also expected to make their respective announcement following the national plan. 

"Coal accounts for around 80% of China's CO2 emissions. When the most developed provinces are required to cut back their coal burning, China's total coal use growth will slow down compared to earlier expert projections boosting efforts to curb CO2 emissions, responsible for climate change," Li Yan said.

The ban on new coal-fired power plants covers China’s most important coal importing regions, the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta, responsible for more than 50% of thermal coal imports. With the power sector the main importer of coal, this will very significantly curb future import demand. 

Greenpeace East Asia recently published research showing that coal-fired power plants in the surrounding provinces contribute more to air pollution deaths in the capital region, than the region's own power plants. (1) Therefore, it will be necessary to limit coal consumption in other areas as well.

"Now that there is provincial momentum in line with the central leadership's political agenda, broadening and effective implementation of these targets is the key. This will have significant implication to China’s coal consumption and its emissions in the mid to long-term. Today’s plan promises to set a nationwide limit on coal consumption, without a specific timeline. We urge the Chinese government to outline a coal peak within the 13th five year plan period," Li Yan added.

Greenpeace East Asia's research can be found here:

Lin Zi, Greenpeace East Asia Media Officer (Beijing), Tel: +86 10 6554 6931 ext.122, Mobile: +86 133 2116 1573, Email: 
Greenpeace International press desk +31 (0)20 718 24 70 or