China Wants To Close 1,725 Coal Mines By The End Of This Year

CREDIT: AP Photo / Andy Wong

A truck loaded with coal from a mine in Mongolia, China.

According to Reuters, China’s energy administration announced today that the country will close 1,725 small-scale coal mines over the course of 2014.

The move is part of China’s plan to shutter older, less productive, and low-quality coal production — most of it in the east — and shift coal production to a series of “coal energy bases” in the northwest and other more remote regions of the country. “Local governments have been under orders to gradually shut all coal mines with annual production capacity of less than 90,000 [metric tons],” Reuters reported. “As well as those mines that are operating illegally and do not comply with state safety requirements.”

China’s local governments will be required to publicly release details on what coal mines they have closed in order to improve enforcement and accountability. The program also demands that they encourage mergers and technological upgrades within the coal industry in order to combat a history of poor safety standards.

The move is similar to the “name and shame” approach the Chinese government recently took to pressure cities and regions that fail to achieve their targets for air pollution reductions. An announcement from the Ministry of Environmental Protection last week revealed that only three Chinese cities out of 74 had fully complied with their pollution reduction targets for 2013.

The Chinese capital of Beijing, along with several other major cities, has been hit recently by rolling, multi-day bouts of smog and air pollution that is many, many times the level consider safe by the World Health Organization. That’s a result of China’s reliance on coal for 70 to 80 percent of its electricity generation. And given the country’s enormous population, that also means China accounts for almost half of global coal consumption — making it the primary driver of global coal consumption, which has climbed upwards at a brisk clip since 2000.

Combined with India’s coal burning, China’s course has driven Asia to surpass North America as the world’s leading territory for carbon dioxide emissions.

The small-scale coal mine closures are one aspect of an effort to get coal down to 65 percent of China’s energy mix by the end of this year. And the country aims to cap its total coal production at 4.1 billion metric tons by 2015 — up from 3.7 billion metric tons in 2013.

Unfortunately, the latest five-year plan from the Chinese government still leaves an opening for 860 million metric tons of new coal production capacity to be set up between 2011 and 2015. So a number of experts think China will most likely blow past that 4.1 billion cap.