Unintended consequences of China's coal capacity cut policy

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In early 2016, China introduced additional capacity cut policies to rebalance supply in the coal market to match demand that had been reduced by slow economic growth and strict environmental regulation. Ensuing disruptions to the coal market caused these policies to be revised and, subsequently, discarded as decision makers tried to find a balance between efficient supply, economic and social stability and environmental sustainability. This paper explores the causes of these unintended consequences using an extended version of the KEM-China model. The results reveal that full and partial compliance with the capacity cut policies results in a significant gap between supply and demand. This suggests that implementation of the policy was technically infeasible, even allowing for a significant increase in coal prices and economic costs. Besides, significant differences in coal prices and output profiles are registered across the country. We argue that the heterogeneous nature of the Chinese coal market and policy compliance was a major factor leading to the unintended consequences rendering a single national price benchmark inappropriate as a policy gauge. We propose that the capacity cut policy should be differentiated across regions and even types of coalmines, market approaches would be preferable to the command-and-control instruments, and policy distortions that cause excess capacity should be removed.




Shi, X., Rioux, B., & Galkin, P. (2018). Unintended consequences of China’s coal capacity cut policy. Energy Policy, 113, 478–486. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2017.11.034

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