China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is declaring war on air pollution. Chinese officials announced that coal-fired power plants in their country will reduce their output of pollution by 60% before 2020. Those plants that do not meet these stricter standards will be shut down. The announcement comes as Beijing struggles with day after day of thick, sun-blocking, sinus-irritating smog that has raised air pollution to twenty two times the safe limit.
As China’s economy and its energy consumption swells, the overwhelming smog that cancelled schools and closed highways this month has become a potent political issue as citizens struggle to breath. The move against coal is the latest in a series of policies in China that aim to limit pollution and promote the use of clean energy. By 2017, the percentage of total energy supplied by coal will be less than 65%.
In addition to combating smog, this policy also seeks to limit Chinese greenhouse gas emissions. At the climate change conference in Paris earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping affirmed China’s commitment to reaching peak emissions around 2030. This timetable is less than ideal for limiting the worst effects of climate change.
Still, China has defended its right to emit greenhouse gases as its economy grows, just as nations in the West had done throughout the 20th century. In 2013, China emitted almost twice as much carbon dioxide as the United States and approximately two and a half times that of the European Union. However, China is also a behemoth in the race to become the clean energy superpower of the 21st century. In 2015, Chinese investment in renewable energy infrastructure exceeded that of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom combined.