Since the 18th Party Congress, China’s leadership pledged to make environmental quality a top national priority, on par with continued economic growth.
Nearly five years on, the world’s most populous nation appears to be living up to its promise: Concentrations of air-polluting particulates over cities such as Shanghai*, Guangzhou** and Beijing*** have dropped by more than 30 percent in that period.
How did one of the world’s largest, fastest growing economies go greener while sustaining its economy, confirming along the way that sound environmental policies and economic progress aren’t mutually exclusive?
One little molecule deserves much credit: natural gas. In recent years, China is increasingly turning to natural gas (NG) to meet its rising energy needs, in large part thanks to a growing supply of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Unlike the larger and more complex molecules that make up coal and wood, natural gas is made up of “little molecules” that produce fewer, smaller airborne particulates when it is burned. Natural gas also has significantly less air pollutant emissions that contribute to smog and lower CO2 emissions than coal when it is used to generate electricity. Because of these factors, natural gas is creating cleaner air and more efficient energy throughout China. For example, In 2012 Urumqi launched the largest “coal-to-gas” program in China, and within one short year, its SO2 emission decreased by 48 percent as other emission levels also decreased significantly.
With effective environmental protection measures, including the remarkable contributions of natural gas, China has made great strides in improving air quality and meeting other environmental goals. Natural gas is not only cleaner and more efficient, but also more versatile than other energy sources. For these reasons, ExxonMobil expects to be an important contributor to China’s continued progress by delivering a reliable supply of LNG.
With reliable LNG suppliers like ExxonMobil, natural gas will meet an increasing share of the electricity and heating and cooking demand to sustainably supply the homes of China’s citizens. It will also enable the country’s industrial sector to run cleaner and more efficiently. Indeed, natural gas will go a long way in improving living standards for all Chinese people.
With that in mind, there could be no better time than now for Shanghai to host LNG 19- which is being held in China for the first time since the inaugural conference was launched in Chicago in 1968. Leading industry players will convene in the dynamic Chinese city to discuss the future of this cleaner energy source from April 1-5.
The pattern of Chinese economic growth has shifted decisively toward greater energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. Natural gas is playing a critical role in this transformation. With the government’s continued commitment and some help from this little molecule, the country is changing expectations about the possibilities for sound environmental stewardship without sacrificing economic imperatives.
*Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau
*Guangzhou Environmental Protection Bureau
*Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau