This year marks the ten-year anniversary of a government campaign to clean up China’s heating systems.
Until 2013, rural households in northern China generally burned coal for heat, with each stockpiling hundreds of kilograms in the run-up to winter. Burning coal in small domestic stoves can create ten times as much pollution as doing so in a power plant. Household burning of the fuel was also a major cause of winter smog.
In 2020, China announced it would peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060. The pledge led to the intensification of work on lowering rural coal use. Swapping coal for electricity or natural gas was no longer enough. Now, lower-carbon sources of energy – geothermal, bioenergy and solar – were to be used to help reduce carbon emissions.
Liu Xin, director of the Environmental Management Programme at Energy Foundation China, said the shift in focus from air pollution to carbon emissions required the use of locally appropriate renewable energy. But he said that the low incomes and poorly insulated homes found in rural areas mean that the possibilities of extra insulation and district heating from a centralised source should be considered first.