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David Fickling

China’s Coal Mining Boom Is Running on Fumes

The pressure to bulletproof coal supplies is pricing it out of the market.

It just doesn’t add up.

It just doesn’t add up.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Something strange is happening in the world’s most polluting industry. China’s coal industry accounts for nearly a fifth of the world’s emissions, a greater volume of greenhouse pollution than every car, train, ship and aircraft in the world. It’s oddly unclear, however, whether that cloud of carbon is growing, or shrinking.

Looking at the tonnage of coal mined during the course of the year, you’d think there was a clear answer — by the government’s numbers, output rose 10.4% compared to 2021. And yet the major consuming sectors don’t seem to be following suit. Thermal power (which in China is almost entirely coal-fueled) increased just 1.4%. Steel and cement production fell by 1.9% and 10.4% respectively. So where’s all that coal going?