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China gets tough on coal, pollution

China – the world’s largest coal consumer – is looking to cut its dependence on the black rock.

On Thursday, the country banned new coal-fired power plants in three areas around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, along with a series of other pollution-curbing measures.

Officials also plan on closing down some major polluters and imposing limits on coal burning.

The government is responding to pressure from its citizens to address pollution and coal is a big contributor to dirty air.

China’s State Council is eager to reduce the country’s dependency on coal as an energy source – which currently provides more than three-quarters of its energy demand. Officials are pushing for more nuclear, natural gas and renewable energy, Reuters reports. China will aim to derive 13% of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2017.

According to the World Coal Organization, out of the world’s 2,300 coal-fired power stations, 620 are located in China.

But some say the government is not doing enough. Members of Greenpeace East Asia told the New York Times that the plan announced on Thursday did not go far enough. China’s industrial structure is the root of the problem, an environmental advocate said.

Enforcement, they said, will be just as important than the rules themselves. In fact, according to the NYT, the country already has a respectable set of environmental standards – on paper; they are largely unenforced.

Air pollution is a major problem for the People’s Republic – according to one study it killed 1.2 million people in 2010.

Last winter the country’s north experienced one of its longest-lasting toxic cloud phenomena. The smog was so bad that roads were blocked, flights cancelled and residents flocked to emergency rooms, unable to breathe.

Creative Commons image by: Francisco Anzola