One of the statistics most commonly quoted by those wishing to demonstrate China's increasing energy consumption is that the PRC opens on average one new coal fired power station each week. As environmental issues creep up the international political agenda, there is increasing worldwide concern about China's rocketing levels of carbon dioxide emissions. The reality of the situation is that, without a firm Chinese commitment to reduce emissions in line with other nations, the environmental cause is all but lost.
At the present time, the country is embarking on a programme of increased use of coal conversion technology to turn coal into liquid fuels. By a process known as coal liquefaction, the raw solid is processed chemically to leave a liquid product which can be utilised in a similar way to oil. If carbon capture technology is involved in the process, the creation and combustion of the end result releases significantly less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to Xinhua, the current output of the coal conversion industry stands at 1.68 million tonnes (coal to liquid) and 15 billion tonnes (coal to gas). However, as the newspaper's coverage reports, Chinese academics are forecasting that in a decade's time the country will have the world's largest coal conversion industry, with these outputs reaching 20 million tonnes and 50 billion tonnes respectively.
If these predictions are accurate, China would be well on its way towards meeting its target of cutting emissions by 40-45% of their 2005 level by 2020. With China mainly reliant on its vast coal fields as opposed to oil and gas reserves for its energy supply, further investment in coal conversion technologies would environmentally represent an excellent choice. Nevertheless, as Xinhua goes on to mention, some Chinese academics are arguing that energy policy should also take into account market demand for resources. Cleaner energy will come at a greater price than simply burning coal directly- this expenditure in all probability will be passed on to the consumer. If energy is cheaper elsewhere, in countries which still have access to substantial deposits of oil and natural gas, Chinese energy giants like Sinopec might start to lose out.
As in the case of many other nations, environment policy in China is a political tightrope which must be trod very carefully. Today's story is a welcome step in the right direction- yet, with Beijing not entirely willing to 'play ball' with international calls for reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, the quest to find China's place in a sustainable world energy consumption situation goes on. As China's ongoing disagreement with Japan over the East China Sea shows, energy issues are becoming increasingly importance in the context of international relations, and this only continue in the future.