China has announced plans to ban the use of coal in its smog-plagued capital by the end of 2020, as the country fights deadly levels of pollution, especially in major cities.
Beijing's Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau posted the plan on its website on Monday, saying the city would instead prioritize electricity and natural gas for heating.
The Chinese central government recently listed environmental protection as one of the top criteria by which leaders will be judged.
The official Xinhua News Agency said coal accounted for a quarter of Beijing's energy consumption in 2012 and 22 percent of the fine particles floating in the city's air. Motor vehicles, industrial production and general dust also contributed to pollution in the city of 21 million people.
But even with the Beijing ban, coal use is expected to soar in China as the country's population and economy expand. Coal-fired power and heating is a major generator of greenhouse gases and has helped turn China into the world's largest emitter of carbon and other heat-trapping gases.
Pressure is growing on China's central government to clean up the country's polluted environment, as discontent over smog and water and soil contamination increases among China's expanding middle class.
But critics of the plan argue that the move to natural gas may actually exacerbate China's problems with pollution.
In September, the government announced a plan to combat excessive coal pollution by moving toward coal-to-gas plants and prohibiting new coal-fired power plants around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou — Beijing’s Action Plan for Air Pollution Prevention and Control.
But a recent study found that coal-to-gas plants would produce nearly twice the emissions limit set by environmental regulators for the proposed projects.
The gas that would be produced by the new plants contains 36 to 82 percent higher greenhouse gas emissions than coal-fired power, according to the study from Duke University.
Environmental researchers say the plants’ contributions to global warming would be devastating.
In response to the plan, the Chinese National Energy Administration published a report last month cautioning against what it called the haphazard development of coal-to-gas plants, saying that they may in fact result in more public health concerns.
The report called on authorities to “resolutely curb the blind development of the coal-to-gas plants.”
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press