Despite its steps to become an environmentally conscious nation, China is burning coal faster than an industrial-age steam train on crack. And not is it only burning its own low-grade, locally-sourced coal, but imported batches from Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa as well. As a result, one half of the 6 billion tons of coal used annually is accounted to China.
According to a recent feature on the New York Times, other countries are looking for a piece of China’s economic action by exporting coal (despite reputations as “environmentally progressive regions”). Less rich nations have also looked to China as a chance to stimulate their dithering economies – Colombia, for example, has revived its coal export economy thanks almost entirely to China.
Thankfully these actions have been challenged by eco-conscious citizens, most prominently in Australia, leading to kayaking protesters, trainloads of coal prevented from reaching export docks by environmentalists as well as Australia’s newly elected prime minister promising to “put a price on carbon”. In spite of these objections, Australian companies are still signing up to supply coal to China.
This summer an Australian company signed a $60 billion contract with a state enterprise, China Power International Development, to supply coal to Chinese power stations beginning in 2013 from a vast complex of mines, called China First, to be built in the Australian outback. It was Australia’s largest export contract ever, the company said.
With only 14% of the coal reserves globally, China is forced to look overseas for resources to satiate their booming needs. Domestic coal mines are also found inland, making it easier to ship coal to cities on the coast. Despite location and low-grade coal, the demand for domestically mined coal has grown around 10% every year for the past decade. Officials also worry that coal production has reached its peak, which might mean capping coal production before reserves run out.
For such an important industry you’d think that safety regulations would be revised to prevent the 2,600 deaths in 2009 and more recently the 29 trapped in a flooded coal pit in Sichuan who thankfully have all been rescued.