After implementing a plan to phase out coal for home heating, China is now asking mining companies to produce more high-quality coal to to keep residents warm this winter.
China has had to scale back plans to replace coal furnaces with natural gas-based heating systems as part of its campaign to cut pollution. The plan quickly ran into major hurdles due to a shortage of natural gas and because many homes were only equipped for coal-based heat.
The National Development and Reform Commission has now asked companies to put high-grade coal projects into service “as soon as possible,” Reuters reported. The government also asked coal-fired power plants to increase their stockpiles and install emissions control equipment.
China’s five-year plan forces rural areas outside some major cities to stop burning coal to heat their homes in the winter, and instead use natural gas to cut down on air pollution. The program quickly ran into trouble as temperatures dropped, leaving many without heat.
Basically, China was wholly unprepared to switch millions of people from coal to gas this winter. Natural gas was in short supply despite the best efforts of central government planners.
“Every day from 7pm to early next morning, there’s no heating. Sometimes the gas supply is not stable when cooking,” a taxi driver identified as Feng told Climate Home News.
“It is very cold, but there’s nothing we can do except wait,” echoed a mother in Zhuozhou.
China has grappled with air pollution problems for years. Residents largely ignored pollution as economic growth boomed, but now air quality has become a major source of public concern as growth slows.
President Xi Jinping made tackling air pollution part of his five-year plan, but delayed natural gas pipelines and terminals have run up against aggressive efforts from local governments to rip out coal furnaces.
“If we had better coordination with the government and started to prepare for this winter, we would not have such a big problem today,” a senior PetroChina official told Reuters.
The setbacks come as China unveiled plans for the world’s biggest cap-and-trade system, that is supposed to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions. The system is part of China’s plan to meet the Paris climate accord.
There’s no firm start date to the program’s start, however, continued natural gas shortages and price increases could make it more difficult to rein in coal use. Experts are already skeptical of China’s ability to even operate a cap-and-trade system.
“The key problems with China’s cap-and-trade program is that they are not very good at measuring emissions and they are not very good at resolving commercial conflicts,” Richard Tol, an environmental economist at the University of Sussex, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“China is just not ready for this,” Tol said.
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