China is about cleaner coal, not less coal: WCA

THE World Coal Association has hit out at suggestions that new coal quality standards issued by China’s National Development and Reform Commission this month signal a phasing out of coal.

Anthony Barich

The new standards for coal produced, sold and used in the Chinese market set by the document, Commercial Coal Quality Management, will apply from January next year.

The WCA called “an exaggeration” claims that the new standards could hit as much as 25 million tonnes of Australian coal sold annually to China, pointing to a Minerals Council of Australia report that showed black thermal coal from Australia would be well within the ash and sulphur thresholds of less than 30% and 2% respectively.

The thresholds for China’s northern cities like Beijing and Tianjin are lower still: less than 16% ash and 1% sulphur. The MCA was advised that these regulations referred to what is colloquially known as “san coal”, which refers to coal used for small boilers, domestic heating, some hotel/restaurants coal use, not large scale power plants, nor other industrial users.

The MCA pointed out that the regulations relating to the quality of san coal were unlikely to affect Australian coal exports given that large industrial users mainly used them.

With the International Energy Agency estimating that China’s coal demand would grow by 14% through to 2035 under the New Policies Scenario and by almost 42% under the Current Policies Scenario, the WCA said it is “therefore clear that new environmental regulations introduced in China are intended to make coal use more sustainable and should not be confused with China shifting away from coal”

“Coal continues to play a vital role around the world, not only in China and India,” WCA CEO Milton Catelin said, pointing to Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar’s New York Times interview this week in which he said his government’s first priority was to alleviate poverty and improve the nation’s economy through the use of new coal-powered electricity.

Javendekar said that as 20% of India’s population doesn’t have access to electricity, he predicted his country’s carbon emissions would inevitably rise as the country addresses poverty as the primary issue.

However, Catelin said that, given such priorities by the world’s biggest consumers, “it’s essential that we wake up to this reality and focus on how coal can be used as cleanly as possible”.

“If all coal-fired power stations were brought up to modern efficiency standards, as called for by the World Coal Association, this would cut global carbon dioxide emissions by over 2 gigatonnes annually. This is more than the total annual carbon dioxide emissions of India – the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world,” he said.

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