Coal Driving the Chinese to Drink

When it comes to decreasing coal consumption, many argue that the reduction will spur an onslaught of unemployment. But what if a region decides to replace its coal industry with something no one will get tired of consuming? The Ningxia region of China will soon find out as it is now trading in coal for wine.

For the last 10 years, the secluded northwestern area has relied on coal mining to keep the economy afloat. However, coal prices have been on the decline, nearly halving since 2011. Manufacturing is also dwindling in the region, normally a high energy user, causing great reductions in the demand for coal. In an effort to keep business booming as fossil fuel use decreases, Ningxia will repurpose the land for vineyards.

Ningxia’s plan is to produce about 100 billion yuan ($16.3 billion) in wine by 2020. The government will help double the amount of land used for vineyards to about 165,000 acres, and set up efforts to draw in overseas winemakers. According to Reuters, this is a very realistic goal, as Chinese consumption of wine has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2013, China consumed about 1.6 billion liters of non-sparkling grape wine. Of the 1.6 billion liters, only 16.7 million liters were produced in Ningxia. Clearly, there is a strong demand for the vino.

As for how well the economy will adjust to the shift in industries, Ningxia is aware this strategy won’t be a perfect solution. Wine project consultant Ma Huiquin said, “It will create more jobs than any other agricultural industry, but we cannot expect the wine industry will create jobs like a shirt company, for example.” Still, winemaking will support 300,000 people in the region, with the industry and construction making up half of the economy.

If this plan works, I cannot think of anything that could be considered more of a win-win situation. The region will become greener, fossil fuel use will be reduced, carbon emissions will diminish, and in return, the people of Ningxia will get the world’s most coveted thirst quencher: wine! So let’s raise a glass and say, “Salute, L’chaim, Cheers,” and per an online translator, “Gan bei!”



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  • Jamie Press

    Great read, Emily. Will be interesting to see if they end up exporting wines from that region down the track.