Coal surge comes too late for China's old mine towns

On the edges of an old and depleted mine in China's central Henan province, workers sift through dunes of low-grade coal, trying to extract every last calorie of energy.

The surplus coal is of low quality but local residents say they can sell it to small businesses.

"These are inferior coals which can be sold. I burn it and let it cool down, then I can sell it to a brick factory which burns them to make bricks."

An unexpected supply crunch in China has pushed coal prices up to record levels and given the industry a new short-term lease of life.

But it has come too late for old coal regions like this one in Pingdingshan, where production has been limited.

After a century of mining that has polluted water supplies and scarred the landscape, the region barely has any more coal to give.

The suppliers in Henan did try to churn out more coal as as prices rose this year but their efforts were abandoned after a series of accidents, including one that killed eight miners in June.

Elsewhere, in the northern region of Inner Mongolia output has increased by 420,000 tonnes since the beginning of October.

But experts say China's dependence on coal is part of the problem not the solution.

They argue that recent energy shortages prove the country's need to accelerate its transition to renewables.

Li Shou is a policy advisor at Greenpeace China.

"The root cause of this crisis is exactly China's heavy addiction on coal. So if there is a longer term mission in the energy planning in the Chinese context, that should propel the country to move away from its coal consumption to enhanced energy-efficiency measures."

Coal has been the focus of discussions at this year's climate conference in Glasgow.

More than 20 countries agreed to phase out coal power during the summit.

On Wednesday, China made its own pledge alongside the U.S., to ramp up cooperation tackling climate change, including phasing out coal, reducing methane emissions, and protecting forests.

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