Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Vast coal field expands into Tibet’s protected grasslands

August 11, 2014

By Malcolm Moore, Beijing

August 7, 2014 - One of China's pristine grasslands, 14,000 ft-high on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is being scarred by giant open-pit coal mining, an investigation has revealed.

Four large coal mines have already claimed 16 square miles of grasslands at the base of the Qilian mountains in Qinghai province, at some points crossing into a nature reserve where all construction is banned, according to Greenpeace.

There are now plans to near-triple the size of operations at the site, known as the Muli coal field, until it is roughly the same size as Bristol.

Campaigners at Greenpeace said the continuing operations of the mine contradicted recent and repeated pledges by Beijing to stop sacrificing the environment for short-term economic growth.

"We should be fully aware of the urgency and difficulty of protecting the environment and reducing pollution," said Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, last year, adding there should be no trade off between economic growth and environmental protection.

"We must take the responsibility for the sake of our people and our children," he added, promising to draw an ecological "red line" that could not be crossed.

Meanwhile in July the government said it would spend 2 trillion yuan (£200 billion) on tackling the pollution of scarce water resources.

And yet the Muli coal field is not only tainting the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau with heavy metals but also threatens to cut off a channel for meltwater from the glaciers in the Qilian mountains to feed into rivers, increasing the chance of drought in western China.

"Southwards, three major rivers originate from these mountains, two contributing to Qinghai lake and one to the Yellow river, China's second longest river," said Greenpeace in its report.

"The pollution of the grasslands is a problem," said Li Shuo, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace. "But the bigger problem is water scarcity."

Mr Li said the expansion of the mine into one of China's 25 new "ecological function zones" was a sign Beijing's new policies "are not fully implemented on the ground" by local governments far away from the capital who remain more interested in greasing the local economy.

The Muli coal field, which has been publicly supported by the local government, contains 3.5 billion tons of coal, or 87 per cent of the province's total proven reserves. Among the companies mining the field is Kingho, one of China's largest privately owned coal groups.

Mr Li said there was a concern that as the government tackles the sources of pollution in eastern China, they may migrate to the West, which continues to cry out for investment.

"The problem is the West is more ecologically fragile. If you have a problem there it is more challenging to fix it," he said.

However, he said mining the grasslands for coal made little business sense. "The demand for coal has been low. There has been an oversupply. Mining coal in Qinghai does not bring a lot of profit and it has a very high environmental cost," he said.

In the past decade, over half of the world's growth in carbon dioxide emissions has come from China's increasing coal consumption.

However, as the east of China has been choked by smog, the government has brought in new restrictions on coal use. On Monday, Beijing's environmental protection bureau announced it would ban the burning of coal in the capital by 2020.

As Greenpeace released its report, Xinhua, the official state news agency, said only nine of 161 Chinese cities had managed to pass air quality monitoring standards in the first half of this year.

(WTN editors) Read the Greenpeace report here:

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank