03/25/2015, 00.00
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Beijing's last coal plant will close in 2016

The Chinese capital has a pollution level twice the national average. Four mega coal based power plants have operated for decades. Coal still provides about 70% of the country’s energy needs, but the damage to the environment is incalculable.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The city of Beijing has announced that it will close the China Huaneng Group Corp, the last coal-fired power plant still operating in its territory by 2016. In recent weeks, the closure of the three other coal plants which provided energy to the megalopolis was also announced. According to the government these will be replaced by gas stations, able to increase the production by 2.6 times compared to current standards.

The decision is part of a larger plan for the modernization of the national energy system, which still depends 70% on coal. The central government wants to reduce use of this highly polluting material by 13 million tons. According to national plans,  energy needs will be met by an increase in imports of oil and gas from abroad.

The issue is not just economic. Burning coal produces emissions that have devastated the environment and air quality in the major cities of the country. In Beijing alone there are nearly 300 days of "bad" weather conditions which have resulted in a significant increase in respiratory diseases and even damaged the normal physical development of children.

The central government is aware of the problem but seems unable to solve it. On several occasions President Xi Jinping called on the industry to "think green" and - on paper - has tightened sanctions against companies and executives who deliberately pollute. However rampant corruption in local government has radically undermined central directives especially in the energy market.

In 2014 the former Minister of Health Chen Zhu wrote an article for the important medical journal The Lancet in which he admitted that environmental pollution causes each year, across the nation, between 350 thousand and 500 thousand premature deaths. However, a study published earlier in the same journal calculated that victims of the air pollution 2010 alone were 1.2 million.


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