Coal, the traditional bedrock of China's power system, is abundant in domestic fields, but it’s dangerous to mine, damaging to the climate and human health, and ill-suited for handling the needs of a grid hosting ever-growing amounts of renewable power.

Natural gas is cleaner and more flexible for electricity generation, but it’s relatively scarce domestically. Beijing, which is wary of dependence on foreign powers for essential commodities, imports 40% of the gas it uses — a proportion that may well rise in future. Meanwhile, use of fossil fuels is driving a climate-exposed country toward disasters that could have a devastating human and environmental toll.

If the country could crack down on the methane released from its coal mines, that would displace a third of gas imports, cut emissions by hundreds of millions of metric tons, and reduce risks to miners all at once.