China coal city vows 'no-coal zones' in bid to curb pollution

Smoke belches from a coal-fuelled power station near Datong, Shanxi. New restrictions on China's "coal city" include bans on the storage, sale and direct combustion of all kinds of coal. PHOTO: AFP

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - Datong, a major coal-producing city in northern China's Shanxi province, will establish "no-coal zones" in urban districts as part of its efforts to curb pollution, the provincial government said on Thursday (Oct 11).

The Shanxi government said the restrictions would cover 102 sq km and would include bans on the storage, sale and direct combustion of all kinds of coal. Coal-fired power and central heating systems will still be permitted.

It said 16,200 households in Datong would switch to cleaner gas heating this winter, and it had already demolished 3,812 coal-fired boilers.

Datong was one of China's major coal producing regions for decades, but many of its collieries are now depleted.

Over-mining has contaminated the city's soil and underground water tables, as well as causing devastating subsidence. That has left large parts of its old mining districts unfit for farming or construction.

The city was also ranked as one of the country's worst performers when it came to meeting water quality standards in the first half of this year.

Shanxi, which produces nearly a billion tonnes of coal a year, has been forced to relocate more than 650,000 people from unsafe former mining districts at risk of collapse.

The province is one of China's major pollution control zones over the 2018-2020 period and it is under pressure to keep coal consumption levels unchanged from 2015 to 2020.

Neighbouring Hebei, which has been on the frontline of China's war on pollution since 2014, established similar "no-coal zones" in several districts in the smog-prone cities of Langfang and Baoding last year.

Hebei was ordered by the central government to cut coal consumption by 40 million tonnes over the 2013-2017 period as part of its commitments to boost air quality.

However, the province struggled to find the natural gas supplies required to replace coal heating systems for thousands of rural households last winter, forcing the government to slow the conversion process.

According to a report submitted to parliament earlier this year, all households in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, as well as the neighbouring provinces of Shanxi and Shaanxi, will have converted from coal to natural gas heating by 2020.

The report said 4.7 million households throughout northern China had already made the switch over the 2012-2017 period.

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