Managing the social consequences of the transition away from coal: the case of clean heating in Shanxi Province, China

Many countries, including in Asia Pacific, have announced pledges to variously peak greenhouse gas emissions or achieve net zero emissions in the coming decades. In many countries, the low-carbon energy transition will require a radical change in systems for space heating and cooking. This is especially important in regions with long, cold winters. Whilst many of these regions today rely on electricity or natural gas, China is an exception where coal accounted for 12% of final energy consumption in buildings in 2019. Traditional biomass accounted for 13%. This compares to a global average of 4% and 19% respectively.  Within China, the use of coal for winter heating and cooking is particularly prominent in the northern regions. Not only are the winters long and cold, but the production and use of coal have formed the core of the economy for decades. For this reason, the government has embarked on a programme to introduce clean heating and cooking systems across northern China to reduce the use of coal and traditional biomass. This paper addresses challenges in the introduction of clean heating. The focus is on Shanxi Province in northern China, being the country’s heartland for coal production and consumption. It is argued that although achieving significant success, China’s programmes for introducing clean heating encountered significant obstacles to implementation. These challenges arose from a combination of the top-down campaign style of the programmes that led to poor policy coordination and the inadequate scale of available financial resources.

By: Philip Andrews-Speed , Yuchao Xu

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