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China’s energy plans ‘to add another 13% to current emissions’

BEIJING — China’s plans for 50 coal gasification plants will produce an estimated 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and contribute significantly to climate change, a report released by Greenpeace East Asia showed.

BEIJING — China’s plans for 50 coal gasification plants will produce an estimated 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and contribute significantly to climate change, a report released by Greenpeace East Asia showed.

The plants, aimed in part at reducing pollution from coal-fired power plants in China’s largest cities, will shift that pollution to other regions, mostly in the north-west, and generate enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas produced by fossil fuels, said the Beijing-based organisation.

If China builds all 50 plants, the carbon dioxide they produce would equal about an eighth of China’s current total carbon dioxide emissions, which come mostly from coal-burning power plants and factories, it said.

Two of the plants have already been built as pilot projects, three more are under construction, 16 have been given the green light to be built and the rest are in various planning stages, said the report.

Last September, the government announced a plan to alleviate air pollution in China’s notoriously smoggy cities. The plan would reduce coal use in the most populated areas by 2017.

Since then, officials have been looking for other ways to provide power for those areas, including the building of many coal-to-gas plants, mostly in north-west China. They would take the place of current coal-burning power plants in China’s most populated areas, including the heavily-polluted northern region, which includes the cities of Beijing and Tianjin.

Coal-to-gas, or coal gasification, is a water-intensive process that generates enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas destabilising the world’s climate. Many scientists have criticised the process and said its use would be even worse for global climate conditions than burning coal.

China is responsible for half of the annual global coal consumption and is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the United States.

Last October, two researchers at Duke University in North Carolina published a commentary urging Chinese policymakers to delay the huge investments in coal-to-gas projects “to avoid a potentially costly and environmentally damaging outcome. An even better decision would be to cancel the programme entirely”.

Eighty per cent of the 50 plants would be located in north-west China, in the provinces or regions of Xinjiang, western Inner Mongolia, Ningxia and Gansu. All those areas suffer from severe water shortages, which will only worsen due to the plants, noted the Greenpeace report.

One of the operational pilot projects is in Inner Mongolia, where the city of Hohhot and Beijing Enterprises Group have reached an agreement in which Inner Mongolia would provide Beijing with 4 billion cubic metres of synthetic natural gas per year — half of the city’s current annual gas demand.

The gas would come from the coal-to-gas plant, which is operated by China Datang Corp, one of the top five state-owned power companies.

The Greenpeace report cited research from Tsinghua University showing that this agreement would result in a drop in coal use in Beijing of 8.94 million tonnes per year, but an increase in Inner Mongolia of 12 million tonnes. This means a net growth in carbon dioxide emissions of 3.77 million tonnes per year and an increase in water consumption of 24 million tonnes, the report added.

In fact, the National Energy Administration (NEA) of China announced earlier that it would place limits on proposed coal-to-gas projects, banning projects that produce less than 2 billion cubic metres of gas per year and coal-to-oil projects producing less than 1 million tonnes of oil per year. It also said provinces or regions that are net importers of coal cannot start coal-to-gas projects.

Mr Ma Wen, a Greenpeace researcher on coal-to-gas projects, said “the new NEA directive shows that China’s energy authority is clearly concerned that its big plan for coal-to-gas plants in western China, seen as a solution for eastern China’s air pollution problem, could go wrong”.

“But the document stops short at merely stressing the necessity of closely monitoring the projects’ development,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem that Beijing is fully aware that western China, including Xinjiang and western Inner Mongolia, don’t have the environmental or water capacity to accommodate its coal-to-gas initiative, or that by 2030, the projects in total could produce almost 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.” THE NEW YORK TIMES

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