China, Coal, and Water: An International Chess Match (or is that Go Match?)

By Ethan Goffman,

Science, Practice, & Policy Blog, July 31, 2012

China’s use of coal has more than doubled in the last decade and is likely to increase even more (Earth Policy Institute, 2011). Balancing energy, water, and pollution issues, coal is part of an intricate chess match—perhaps “go match” would be a better metaphor when discussing Asia—through which China continues its incessant growth. Indeed, China already consumes about half of the global coal supply. Coal’s complexities and impacts were the subject of a recent forum, The Thirsty King: Digging into the Water Footprint of China’s Coal, at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. While China has the sixth largest water supply in the world, its huge population dilutes this volume; the country has only 2,000 cubic meters of water per person, a quarter of the world’s average, according to Dr. Pei Liu of Tsinghua University. About a quarter of its water resources go to industrial use, of which half is for coal, which sucks away at this vital resource.