Sooty Sales
China Prepares to Boost Coal Exports

Here’s a reminder (as if you needed one) that China’s top priority isn’t saving the planet: though the country’s prodigious coal appetite for coal seems to have been sated recently, Beijing is hoping to export more of the sooty (and greenhouse gas emitting) rock that it’s not burning itself. Bloomberg reports:

China Shenhua Energy Co., the country’s biggest coal producer, may boost exports as much as eightfold to 10 million tons, Vice Chairman Ling Wen said Tuesday. The company shipped 1.2 million tons last year, according to its annual report. […]

Shanxi’s proposal illustrates the balancing act by China’s policy makers. The province said it hasn’t been successful nurturing industries outside of coal, and is now focused on easing the burden on state-owned miners. Closing mines will “pose risks to social stability,” Shanxi said in an economic and social blueprint distributed at the nation’s annual parliamentary meeting this month.

China is trying to balance two tricky goals: it is trying to cut down on an overcapacity of coal-fired power plants and in so doing to clear its smoggy skies while reaping international green goodwill, while also needing to protect the huge number of people currently employed by the sector.

China’s own official numbers say its coal consumption fell 3.7 percent last year, and while some greens latched upon this as a sign that the country is continuing to turn over a new eco-friendly leaf, that decline also reportedly entailed the loss of 1.8 million jobs. That’s a mind-boggling number, and unaddressed it’s obviously going to lead to a more restive Chinese public.

That’s why China is hoping to start exporting more coal, though it must be said it’ll be entering a global market that’s already quite oversupplied. But for Beijing, it may be worth selling its coal at bargain prices if it means it can keep its mines open and hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people still employed.

This ought to bring clueless greens who have rapturously watched what’s been happening in China over the past year and half back to reality. Beijing doesn’t care about the environment as an end itself, but rather sees eco-friendly policies as a way to build international political capital while quelling dissent over toxic air pollution at home. That calculus can change though, and that’s what we’re seeing with this plan to start selling coal abroad. Political stability and economic concerns will trump green ideals every time.

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