Cap China's Coal Use

August 19, 2015

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China is the world’s largest consumer of coal for power generation and industry. Although this fossil fuel has helped drive the country’s economic development, it has also left grave public-health and environmental problems in its wake. Pollution from coal-fired power plants and industries is the largest contributor to climate change and poor air quality in China, causing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and economic losses each year.

NRDC is helping the country to cap its coal consumption by 2020, accelerating the shift to clean, renewable energy in the process. In 2013, we joined more than 20 leading Chinese government think tanks, research institutes, and industry associations to launch the China Coal Consumption Cap Project. Through this initiative, we are helping to develop a policy road map that will enable the country to establish a binding national cap on coal consumption—and our strategy was directly reflected in China's 2014 pledge to cap its coal consumption at 4.2 billion tons by 2020.

With our partners, we are encouraging China to reduce and replace its coal consumption with energy-efficient technologies and renewable sources like wind and solar power. As part of its climate commitment, China has set a target of expanding its renewable energy and nuclear power to reach 20 percent of its primary energy consumption by 2030. Doing so will require the construction of 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of new zero-carbon power capacity by 2030—close to the total amount of electricity generated by the entire United States.

We conduct research to demonstrate the benefits of this shift—for the environment, public health, and the economy. For example, the China Coal Consumption Cap Project estimated that the development of energy-saving technologies could create more than one million new jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Factoring in local air-quality goals, economic differences, the availability of clean energy replacements, the coal cap project is also providing recommendations for translating the national cap into regional targets for reducing coal use.

Ending China’s heavy dependence on coal will require major new investments in clean energy. NRDC and our partners are outlining a comprehensive set of financial policies that will direct investment away from coal mining and coal-related industries and toward energy efficiency and renewable energy.