In The Face Of Historic Smog, China Adds $10 Billion In New Coal Production Capacity

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

A tourist with a protective mask watches the buildings at the Bund under heavy haze in Shanghai, China, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013.

The desolation of smog in China? Forget it.

Despite experiencing the worst air pollution on record in 2013, China last year approved the construction of more than 100 million tonnes of new coal production capacity at a cost of $9.8 billion, according to a report compiled Wednesday by Reuters. The increase in coal production in 2013 was six times bigger than the increase in 2012, when the administration approved just four coal projects with 16.6 million tonnes of annual capacity and a total investment of $1.2 billion.

In other words, in just one year, China added coal production capacity equal to 10 percent of total U.S. annual usage.

The news is startling, considering the country’s world famous pollution, which has caused myriad health problems, marred cityscapes, and even gave an 8-year-old girl lung cancer. What’s more, the pollution has recently been confirmed to be caused by fossil fuel production, with coal at the forefront.

The news of China’s staggering increase in coal production capacity also casts serious doubt on the government’s recently-announced new pollution reduction targets, which reportedly require all of China’s provinces to reduce air pollution by 5 to 25 percent annually. Those who fail to meet those goals will supposedly be “named and shamed” publicly.

If China continues its ravenous appetite for coal in 2014 the way it did in 2013, it is very difficult to see how those goals will be met. Coal supplies 26.6 percent of energy use worldwide and claims responsibility for 43.1 percent of global CO2 emissions, according to data from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

And it will most certainly cancel out what is looking like great potential for the country’s solar industry. The country in April issued goals to have a total of 700,000 MW of renewable energy online, including 50,000 MW of solar, by 2020 — a goal recently reinforced by the development of a huge 1,000 megawatt (MW) ground-mounted solar power plant complex in the western Xinjiang province.

Air pollution is not the only plague China has recently faced because of its more than 2,300 coal-fired power plants. In the mining town of Majiapo, families drink out of an acidic river turned bright orange by “acid mine drainage,” which is discharged chemical-laden water from an abandoned coal mine. And though the source of this pollution is not yet confirmed, Chinese government officials confirmed last month that approximately 3.33 million hectares, or 8 million acres, of China’s farmland is now too polluted to grow crops.