China’s Coal-Plant Upgrades Could Reduce Pollution

Upgrades to coal-fired power plants in China would reduce pollution by 60 percent by 2020, the Chinese cabinet announced Wednesday.

If they work as intended, the upgrades could cut carbon dioxide emissions by 180 million metric tons. The cabinet also claimed the upgrades will limit the use of raw coal for power plants to around 100 million metric tons.

China is the world’s largest coal consumer and emitter of green house gases. Earlier this week, President Xi Jinping met with other world leaders at a climate change summit in Paris, where he expressed China’s commitment to reduce industrial pollution.

During his visit, parts of Northern China were engulfed by the year’s worst levels of air pollution thus far. In parts of Beijing, the levels of PM 2.5, a particulate matter that can be deadly, reached 40 times the recommended daily exposure limit set by the World Health Organization.

China this year granted permits for the establishment of 155 new power plants across the country. However, environmental researchers say the addition of new power plants won’t necessarily lead to a major spike in coal consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. As the economy slows, demand for power will drop with it. This means overall coal consumption probably will not increase.

The latest power plants in China tend to emit less carbon dioxide than their predecessors. Power plants are also overall less polluting on average than heavy-commodity producers like steel and cement plants.

China has said it plans to cap coal use at 4.8 billion tons by 2020. Coal consumption when measured by energy generation was flat in 2014 compared to the rate in 2013. Some scientists argue China may already be reaching its proposed coal-use peak.

Prior to the Paris talks, China released preliminary estimates of statistics that would hike previous records of coal-consumption in the past decade.

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