CHINA: Coal cuts announced as environmental advisors meet to discuss 5-Year Plan

As Chinese officials formulate the country's 10th Five-Year Plan environmental advisors from around the world suggest ways to co-ordinate economic growth with environmental protection.


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During the same week that the China Council for International Co-operation on Environment and Development (CCICED) met to advise China on environmental policy for the years 2000-2005, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) announced new measures to restrict coal use as a way of reducing sulphur dioxide emissions.

SEPA has asked Chinese cities with significant sulphur dioxide pollution problems to create control programmes and to renovate industries. Small coal-fired power stations that have been in operation for more than 25 years will be shut down, according to SEPA regulations. Mines, both licensed and unlicensed, that continue to produce high-sulphur coal must stop doing so this year.

SEPA has also committed itself to enforcing reductions in domestic use of high-sulphur coal.

Some cities have already begun tackling the problem of coal-related pollution. Beijing has embarked on the third phase of its air pollution improvement plans with the goal of improving air quality during the “heating season” year on year. Measures to tackle industrial air pollution in Beijing were included for the first time when the third phase of the air quality improvement programme was launched on 1 October.

The price of low-sulphur coal has been lowered in Beijing and Wang Guangtao, Beijing vice-mayor, said he hoped that would encourage people to switch voluntarily. “It was mainly because of this new kind of coal that we realised a record nine months’ continuous decrease in the sulphur dioxide density in the atmosphere this year,” he said, as reported in China Daily.

Meanwhile Xi’an, the ancient Chinese capital and home to the Qin Dynasty Terracotta Warriors, has announced plans to shift the city’s main fuel source from coal to natural gas. The city’s mayor has banned coal burning within the downtown area from 1 November. Xi’an, the capital of the Shaanxi province, has seen its air pollution composite index improve in recent years, thanks to environmental control measures, but city leaders want to improve it further. Tourism is an important component to Xi’an’s economy and improved air quality is expected to add to the city’s ability to attract more visitors.

On a national level, SEPA’s anti-coal measures are seen as part of a larger trend to spend more money on environmental improvements and the implementation of previous recommendations made by CCICED. According to Wen Jiabo, China’s vice-premier, 43% more was spent on pollution treatment in 1998 than in 1997. Among CCICED’s many 1998 recommendations, China’s dependence on coal was specifically mentioned. “Current methods of generating energy have caused many of China’s worst environmental problems. Given China’s current and likely future dependence on coal, the introduction of new and cleaner techniques for using coal is essential,” the recommendations stated.

As a result of a focus on air quality, nuclear energy is officially seen as a clean energy. On 21 October, work on the Tianwan Nuclear Power Station, a joint venture between China and Russia, began in the coastal city of Lianyungang. At the ceremony to mark the construction’s beginning, Wu Bangguo, Chinese vice-premier, stated that nuclear power is a safe and clean energy. The People’s Daily reported that Wu described the development of the nuclear power industry as providing environmental benefits.

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