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Will China Kick Its Coal Habit?

Summary:
Whether China can free itself from its decades-old addiction to coal will determine not just its own environmental future, but also – and more crucially – Earth’s prospects in the face of the gathering climate crisis. Worryingly, the country’s previous forward momentum now appears to have shifted into reverse. NORTHAMPTON, MA – China is stuck between a fossil fuel-dependent past and a future powered by renewable energy. The country today generates 53% of the world’s coal-fired power. At the same time, it is the world’s leading manufacturer of, and market for, solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. Whether China can free itself from its decades-old addiction to coal will determine not just its own

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Whether China can free itself from its decades-old addiction to coal will determine not just its own environmental future, but also – and more crucially – Earth’s prospects in the face of the gathering climate crisis. Worryingly, the country’s previous forward momentum now appears to have shifted into reverse.

NORTHAMPTON, MA – China is stuck between a fossil fuel-dependent past and a future powered by renewable energy. The country today generates 53% of the world’s coal-fired power. At the same time, it is the world’s leading manufacturer of, and market for, solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. Whether China can free itself from its decades-old addiction to coal will determine not just its own environmental future, but also – and more crucially – Earth’s prospects in the face of the gathering climate crisis.

China’s leaders began to recognize the need for change in the early 2000s. The largely coal-fueled “economic growth at all costs” policy had brought great prosperity, but the collateral damage to the country’s air and water had grown unacceptably high. Environmental advocates called for “building an ecological civilization,” in which nature and humankind would find a harmonious balance. And when President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012, he immediately took up the cause.

In quick succession, the Chinese government declared a “war on pollution,” drew up separate air, water, and soil action plans committing $1 trillion to environmental cleanup, closed inefficient coal plants, and...

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