China doubles down on coal

Domestic News

Forget clean energy: The approval of a new mega-mine in Ordos, China’s mining hub, shows that Beijing is still committed to mining coal.

Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

Authorities in Ordos, China’s biggest coal mining hub, located in Inner Mongolia, have approved a new mega-mine able to produce 15 million tons each year and that can operate for nearly a century.

  • The new Baijiahaizi mine, which will be operated by Lianhai Coal Industry Co., spans about 65.6 square miles and contains 2.03 billion tons of coal reserves, China Coal Resource reported.

Coal is China’s most dependable resource and is deeply entrenched in the nation’s social, economic, and power systems, which were shaken during a painful power shortage last year. “Coal is the last barrier,” Vice Premier Hán Zhèng 韩正 said in March.

  • As the world’s largest coal user, China produces and consumes around half of the total global supply.
  • In March, the National Development and Reform Commission told mining officials that it wants to boost domestic production capacity by about 300 million tons.
  • The nation’s coal production hit record levels last year amid calls to ramp up fossil fuel output to weather the winter power crisis.
  • China committed to stop building new overseas coal power projects and encouraged “clean and efficient use of coal” for existing power plant projects.
  • Beijing’s 14th Five-Year Plan (English, Chinese) has also stressed the role of coal in “ensuring basic energy needs” and supporting the nation’s power system.
  • China’s biggest Politburo gatherings held earlier this year emphasized the need for “stability” on all fronts, including energy.

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The move marks another step in Beijing’s push to increase domestic coal production, in a bid to reduce its reliance on imports and secure the country’s supply of energy, as its other resources of fuel are destabilized over Western sanctions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • Although the lion’s share of coal used in China is mined domestically, snags in coal imports from Indonesia and Australia last year threw a wrench in the nation’s energy needs.
  • China is “rich in coal, poor in oil, and short of gas (富煤贫油少气),” Chinese leader Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 said in a speech in the region that reaffirmed coal production earlier last month.
  • “Because China has its own coal but depends highly on imports for oil and gas, policymakers need to ensure that, if the worst comes to the worst, the country’s basic social and economic activities would still be able to run on coal power,” Dr. Kevin Mo, a member of the Beijing-based consultancy Green Development Program (iGDP), told Carbon Brief.

Does this mean Beijing is changing its ambitious long term carbon-neutral plans? No, according to Dù Xiángwǎn 杜祥琬, an academic and the deputy director of China’s National Energy Advisory Committee of Experts, who once said:

Coal is a hero. Coal reduction is progress.

煤炭是功臣。减煤是进步。

Méitàn shì gōngchén. Jiǎn méi shì jìnbù.

Nadya Yeh