China's Air Pollution Control Action Plan has ambitious goals—cutting air particulates and coal consumption—but it may create unintended problems for the country’s water supply.
The Plan aims to reduce particulate matter in the North China Plain by 25 percent and reduce coal’s share of the national energy mix to 65 percent by 2017. One of the plan’s key recommendations is to replace coal with cleaner natural gas, including synthetic natural gas (SNG) converted from coal. Converting coal to natural gas, however, is an extremely water-intensive process. One cubic meter of SNG requires 6 to 10 liters (1.58-2.6 gallons) of freshwater to produce1. So in an attempt to control urban air pollution in the east, China might jeopardize its water supplies elsewhere.
Using WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, we overlaid the locations of these approved SNG plants on our water stress maps to assess the potential water risks. Many of these plants are located in water-stressed regions, and could exacerbate water scarcity. More than 76 percent of the proposed SNG capacity will face high or extremely high baseline water stress, meaning each of the locations either competes with many other users for limited available water supplies, or has very little water available at all.Read our blog post for our major findings.