Air clears as cities shift from coal to gas

The transition has slashed air pollution in Beijing, Shanghai and Urumqi in China and Santiago in Chile

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By Jonny Bairstow

Urban air quality in cities across China and South America has been “drastically improved” after switching from coal to natural gas in residential and industrial energy production.

That’s according to the International Gas Union (IGU), which explores how Beijing, Shanghai and Urumqi in China and Santiago in Chile have managed to slash air pollution without sacrificing economic development.

The IGU says the cities got greener by introducing policies to improve end-use energy efficiency, increase combustion efficiency to reduce soot, encourage fuel switching and incentivise the use of renewable energies.

It says in 2000 Shanghai had more than 3,800 industrial boilers in operation and emitted 464,000 tons of sulphur dioxide and 141,200 tons of smoke and dust.

From 2000-2012, Shanghai embarked on a coal-fired boiler retrofit programme to move to gas-fired energy.

In 2012, the city established a fund for gas project incentives and in 2015, the entire metropolitan area was required to become coal-free.

The IGU says this reduced all major air pollutants, with PM2.5 concentration improving by 27.4% compared to 2013 and PM10 concentrations dropping by 14.5% compared to 2015.

The city’s coal to gas consumption ratio also dropped from 43% in 2013 to 33% in 2016.

David Carroll, President of the IGU, said: “More must be done to tackle the severe impact this is having on human health without sacrificing economic growth – Shanghai, Beijing, Urumqi and Santiago are four prime examples of how this is achievable, with natural gas playing a leading role.”