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Green plans need coal mine closures

By Fu Jing (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-01-17 12:32

Wearing a safety helmet and dressed as a coal miner, Premier Li Keqiang spent two hours in a coal mine 7,000 meters below the ground with workers during his first inspection tour of 2016 in North China's Shanxi province, which boasts of a large coal reserve but faces economic problems because of overcapacity.

Apart from supervising work safety, Li also encouraged the coal miners, who are exposed to risks and disasters. The premier's bold gesture should herald the much-needed change in the industry.

I spent a few hours in a coal mine in a neighboring province 10 years ago. My visit was preceded by a deadly accident in a nearby mine, and the report I filed focused on the hardships the miners had to endure in the dark tunnels.

In those days, coal mine accidents were frequent. According to official figures, coal mine accidents claimed the lives of 5,938 workers in 2005. In contrast, about 500 died in such accidents in 2015. This shows safety has improved dramatically over the years.

Despite this being an encouraging sign, there is no room for complacency because we are far from realizing the target of "zero death" in coal mines. Some Chinese safety regulators argue that the United Kingdom took about 70 years to make its coal mines "totally" safe, with the United States doing so in 60 years, and Japan in 26 years.

The UK closed its last deep coal mine on Dec 18, 2015, and now has 26 open-cast mines in operation. But one cannot say with certainty when China will be able to close all its unsafe mines because coal is still the fuel of choice when it comes to generating electricity.

In September, President Xi Jinping pledged to realize the United Nations Global Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and at the climate change conference in Paris in December, China's strenuous efforts helped the international community reach a historic deal to keep the increase in global temperatures below 2 C.

Such commitments will be incorporated into China's domestic policies, as its leadership has emphasized the concept of "green and inclusive" development in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

But to realize the ambitious goal of "green and inclusive" development, the government has to take integrated measures. And to reduce carbon emissions and prevent mine accidents, the government is likely to shut down poorly equipped and improperly managed coal mines.

To ensure these measures do not compromise the opportunities for poor villagers to earn their livelihood, the government should let them know that opportunities exist in other areas.

For example, smog and intensive work pressure have made city residents yearn for the balm of country life. More and more urbanites want to experience the peaceful, tranquil and simple life of the countryside, complete with green mountains, flowing streams and clean air. In fact, the number of investors in farms is increasing.

Hopefully, China can realize the goal of "zero death" in coal mines as soon as possible.

The author is China Daily chief correspondent in Brussels. Contact the writer at fujing@chinadaily.com.cn

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