Since 2007, China has overtaken America’s role as the single largest polluting nation on the planet. One-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions originate in the rapidly-developing country, which has proven a boon to its expanding economy but a severe health risk to its citizens.
Between 2002 and 2010, lung cancer rates in Beijing rose over 50 percent. Wang Ning, the deputy director of the city’s cancer center, told China Daily that lung cancers exhibit different characteristics depending on their point of origin, and that cancers caused by exposure to air pollution (lung adenocarcinoma) are increasing. Today, China contains about 20 percent of the global population, yet it accounts for 33 percent of global lung cancer deaths.
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau announced the proposed coal ban on its website. According to the official Xinhua News Agency, coal made up 25 percent of the city’s total energy consumption in 2012 and 22 percent of the fine particles floating in the air. The impacts on residents’ health as well as the ever-present smog that wreathes the city, the contamination in the soil and water, have all led to growing political pressure to curb hazardous emissions.
Yet the solution may be no better. In September, the government proposed limiting its coal consumption by transitioning its power generation to coal-to-gas plants. But that would be an even worse idea, according to a study from Duke University. Such plants would produce between 36 and 82 percent higher greenhouse gas emissions than coal-fired plants. In July, the Chinese National Energy Administration produced a similar report, warning authorities to “resolutely curb the blind development of the coal-to-gas plants.”
Beijing’s 2020 plan also calls for prohibiting the use of fuel oil, petroleum coke, combustible waste and some biomass fuels.