Converting coal would help China’s smog at climate’s expense
China’s conversion of coal into natural gas could prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths each year. But there’s a catch: As the country shifts its use of vast coal reserves to send less smog-inducing chemicals into the air, the move threatens to undermine efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, researchers said Tuesday.
The environmental trade-off points to the difficult choices confronting leaders of the world’s second largest economy as they struggle to balance public health and financial growth with international climate change commitments.
Between 20,000 and 41,000 premature deaths annually could be prevented by converting low-quality coal in the country’s western provinces into synthetic natural gas for residential use, according to the findings of researchers from the United States and China published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
If the gas were used for industrial purposes, fewer deaths would be averted and they would carry a steeper price — a dramatic increase in carbon dioxide emissions, according to the researchers and a separate report released Tuesday by Greenpeace.
China’s immediate drive to clean up local air quality could be addressed by using coal-produced synthetic gas, said study co-author Denise Mauzerall, a professor of environmental engineering and international affairs at Princeton University.