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6 - From Barrier to Bridge

The Role of Coal in China’s Decarbonization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2021

Henry Lee
Affiliation:
Harvard University, Massachusetts
Daniel P. Schrag
Affiliation:
Harvard University, Massachusetts
Matthew Bunn
Affiliation:
Harvard University, Massachusetts
Michael Davidson
Affiliation:
University of California, San Diego
Wei Peng
Affiliation:
Penn State University
Wang Pu
Affiliation:
Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing
Mao Zhimin
Affiliation:
Harvard University, Massachusetts
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Summary

Rapid economic growth in China has predominantly relied on coal-fired electricity and coal use in industry, generating an increasing range of economic, environmental, and health costs. While many policies aim to restrict – and reverse – coal’s growth, the transition from coal to low-carbon alternatives is neither automatic nor just around the corner. Entrenched technological systems, political interests, and historical factors serve to maintain coal’s dominance. For China to prepare for deep decarbonization by mid-century, it must proactively convert coal from a barrier to a bridge – productively repurposing and valuing coal assets for flexible operation, addressing the difficult coal-based district heating infrastructure in the north – develop alternative fuels and feedstocks for industry and households, and mitigate the immense socioeconomic consequences of this transition on governments, firms, and workers.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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