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To Fight Against Smog, China Bans Coal in 28 Cities

The slogans say: “Coal Ban is military order, see the smoke and the house will be torn down” and “Arrest whoever sells coal”. From Weibo.

As winter approaches, Beijing is gearing up to fight against smog, and a large number of cities in northern China have issued a ban on coal.

Different from the previous efforts coordinated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in past years, the Coal Ban, as it is being called, has become an economic policy supervised by a coalition of top authorities. Concrete targets on air quality level — and the number of coal-free districts — have been handed down to 28 cities in northern China.

In the past few years, China has been seriously affected by air pollution — especially in winter — with major cities in northern China recording pollutants, or PM 2.5, in the air from 300 to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³). Such high levels of pollutants are hazardous to human health and can cause lung disease, emphysema, lung cancer, or premature death in people with existing heart or lung conditions.

Last week, Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province — the heart of China’s coal production — was one of the areas to issue the Coal Ban. The announcement is considered a symbolic act of showing Beijing’s determination in cutting coal consumption.

Soon after the 28 cities were listed, the Coal Ban turned into a campaign, with banners and slogans strategically positioned for people to see.

Street and village committees from the coal-free districts mobilized themselves in order to ensure that residents have shifted to clean energy sources.

While people love blue sky, many are also worried that those who cannot afford clean energy would freeze to death this winter. In Weibo, some urged the authorities to slow down in the implementation of the Coal Ban:

【陈安石:邯郸禁煤是好政策,请急步慢行】为防治大气污染,河北邯郸决定在主城区全面禁煤。客观的说这是个好政策,上符《污染法》,下合百姓青天碧水之期盼。只是觉得这事整的有点急。对于污染对于落后的生产模式,一个政令下来就要马上实施与改变,只能说领导的愿望很好,怕是短时间难以做到。比如说,煤是电力发电的主要能源,若没有新能源替代之前,一刀切掉,那发电怎么办?邯郸市的用电如何解决,还是说,只禁掉百姓用煤,发电企业不禁呢?

[Chen Anshi: the Coal Ban policy in Handan city [of Hebei province] is good, but please take it steadily] To tackle the problem of air pollution, Handan city in Hebei has decided to ban coal in most parts of the city. This is a good policy in alignment with the pollution law and people’s expectation for blue sky and clean water. But the implementation is a bit hasty. The wish of the leaders to transform the backward and highly polluted production is good, but it can’t be changed overnight. For example, currently the use of coal for electricity is the main source of energy, without alternative clean energy source, can you even product enough electricity supply? On the other hand, if we ban ordinary people from using coal, [people would ask] why don’t you ban coal-generated electricity?

近日,为了环保指标达标,邢台市多地提前开展冬季禁煤运动,本身是好意。但农村许多独居老人不会使用天然气或电器做饭,甚至使用这些就会导致新的不安全。咋办?希望邢台市相关部门考虑这些现实问题,执法做到人性化,维护这些农村独居老人弱势群体的利益。

Recently, in order to meet the environmental target, Xingtai city [of Hebei province] started the Coal Ban campaign. It is a good move. But in villages, there are still many elderly people who live by themselves and they don’t know how to use natural gas or electric devices for cooking. Accidents may happen [if we force them to use these alternatives]. What should we do? I hope the authorities of Xingtai can consider the practical problem and be human-oriented in the implementation of the policy so as to protect the interest of marginal social groups, like the elderly in the village.

The idea of coal-free districts was initially introduced in 2011 targeted at cutting coal consumption in the capital, Beijing. A more concrete and comprehensive action plan was put forward in 2013, which identified Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei as the most stringently targeted region for air quality control. It set the target that Beijing’s annual average concentration of hazardous particles, PM2.5 (Particulate Matter, 2.5 micrometers or less), should be controlled at a level of 60ug/m3 (microgram/cubic meter).

As anticipated, the plan has met with resistance, as Hebei is China’s steel hub and heavy industry relies mainly on coal as an energy source.

In August 2017, the Ministry of Environmental Protection geared up its action plan and published a battle plan against smog. In addition to Beijing and Tianjin, 26 other cities in the provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong and Henan, were listed for setting up coal-free districts. But the ministry also admitted difficulties in meeting the 2017 target.

However, the cutting of coal consumption is not just an environmental campaign; it has also become an economic development and planning issue.

In September 2017, a top-level policy coalition of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, National Development and Reform Committee, Ministry of Finance and Energy published a supervision guideline demanding that the leader of the 28 cities speed up the establishment of coal-free districts to adhere to the 2017 air quality standard.

Taiyuan, China’s coal hub, has taken action in banning coal accordingly. As the richest city in Shanxi, Taiyuan would not suffer too much from the Coal Ban, but other coal-mining cities in Shanxi — including Jincheng, where the majority of residents rely on coal for warming their homes — reacted to the ban with greater resentment. In a Jincheng chatroom, people said:

沒有暖氣煤氣的住戶,冬天都到政府大樓住吧,肯定政府管住,要是不管,那政府就是想讓凍死咱們呢

Those residents who don't have gas warming systems at home have to move to the city government buildings in winter. The government would have to take care of them. If they don't, they want people to be frozen to death.

這回只要把老百姓窮死凍死就好了,剩下的當官,資本家們就可以共同建議發達國家了。

It is good to freeze the poor to death. The remaining rich ones would become the officials and they can build an advanced rich country with the capitalists.

Although some local governments have provided subsidies for the residents to shift to clean energy, some are skeptical:

一个炉子安装7000块,政府补贴给安装的厂家5000,自己还要掏腰包2000,电价一问国家补贴3个月,明年还补不补政府也不知道…

An electric heater costs RMB 7,000 [US $1052] and the government subsidies the manufacturer RMB 5,000 [US $751]; the household has to pay RMB 2,000 [US $301]. The government will subsidy three months’ electricity fee; whether the subsidies will continue next year is unclear…

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