China plans to cut its dependence on coal from 72 percent of the country’s total energy needs today to 50 percent by 2050, a senior government official said this weekend. China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, has already started to lower its coal production to some 1 billion tons this year, down from a peak of 1.3 billion tons in recent years. About 25,000 small coal mines are scheduled to be closed this year, and a number of job losses will result. Coal burning in China produced 200 million tons of fly ash last year, and now Chinese and Canadian scientists are working to find ways to use the fly ash to nurture the growth of new trees and thereby help combat desertification.