China burns a lot of coal. And that means the country digs up a lot of coal. But in 2014, for the first time in the 21st century, China's coal habit shrank.
The country dug up 3.7 billion metric tons of the dirty black rock in 2013. But last year that figure appears to have dropped to 3.5 billion metric tons. And coal imports fell by more than 10 percent.
These developments are part of the country’s new effort against pollution, which includes the cutback on coal burning to help reduce choking soot and smog in China's major cities. But the trend is also thanks to a slowdown in economic growth, including lower demand for steel for the first time in decades, which in turn lessens the need for coal to fire up the furnaces.
It remains too early to tell if this cutback in coal mining is a blip or evidence for the much-anticipated peak in the country's consumption of the most polluting fossil fuel. But it’s a good sign that China is on track to restrain global warming pollution in the next decade or so, as agreed under a lauded deal with the United States—the world's second largest polluter.
The U.S. has seen its coal habit shrink, too, thanks to increased use of natural gas. If the world’s top two polluting nations can permanently cut coal, that’s good news for a heating planet and billions of pairs of lungs.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]