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Beijing won’t meet WHO air pollution standards until 2030s

Action to tackle Beijing’s air pollution is meaningless without parallel efforts to stall growth in regional coal consumption, says Greenpeace

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More coal was consumed in provinces surrounding Beijing than the United States (Image from Greenpeace)

Beijing has finally decided to do something about its air pollution. Last week, the city announced a multibillion yuan campaign to tackle its environmental problems, an urgent follow up to last month’s parliamentary sessions, where the capital’s infamous air pollution – dubbed “airpocalypse" by the media – was the subject everyone was talking about.

The environmental investment plan will see 100 billion yuan spent on areas including sewage treatment and air pollution over three years, according to state media. Beijing will also start to implement its 2013 Clean Air Action Plan, which contains a variety of measures aimed at bringing down the city’s major pollutants by a modest 2% in 2013. 

Despite these initiatives, policymakers failed to address the elephant in the room. Action to tackle Beijing’s air pollution cannot be seen as serious without parallel efforts to stall growth in regional coal consumption. This, however, is beyond the scope of Beijing’s plan and requires collective efforts from neighbouring provinces. 

Both official statistics and scientific assessments show that coal-burning is the largest source of the three main pollutants linked to PM2.5: sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide and primary particulate matter. PM2.5 is shorthand for fine particulates measuring 2.5 microns or less in diameter, which have been at the centre of the public furore over air quality in China over the past two years. 

In addition, Beijing’s air pollution problem is, to a large extent, regional and trans-boundary. According to one study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, an average of 39% of Beijing’s PM2.5 comes from emission sources outside the city. The same study also found that when there are sustained winds from the south, namely from Hebei and Shandong provinces, non-Beijing airborne pollutants can contribute 50-70% of the capital’s PM2.5 levels. 

The need for a regional coal cap  

A quick flick through China’s energy statistics book tells us just how coal-addicted Beijing’s neighbours are. In 2011, Shandong and Hebei collectively consumed nearly 700 million tonnes of coal, making them the first and fourth biggest consumers among China’s provinces. Each burned through more coal than Germany, Europe’s largest economy, and together they exceeded India’s total coal consumption. Putting it another way, more coal is consumed within 600 kilometres of China’s capital than in the entire United States. 

The crucial need to control coal use and address air pollution at a regional level is driven home by the scale of Hebei’s energy consumption within the Jing-jin-ji (Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei) region. Hebei is responsible for 80% of coal consumption within the region, and 77-90% of the emissions of the three main pollutants.

Even if Beijing can immediately achieve its proposed annual coal cap of 15-million tonnes (which translates into a saving of about 7 million tonnes of coal) this reduction is significantly overshadowed by the huge energy appetite of Hebei. Without any movement from Hebei, the emission control guarantee from the new Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun is merely a palliative measure, rather than a breakthrough cure. 

More worrying perhaps, is that while Beijing has managed to cut its own emissions swiftly, pollution from Shandong and Hebei increased dramatically in 2011. A decline in emissions thanks to the installation of sulphur-dioxide pollution control equipment in power plants between 2005 and 2010 has been followed by a staggering rise. Hebei’s SO2 emissions increased 15% in 2011, while Shandong’s rose by 19%, according to recent statistics

The inconvenient truth is that progress in emission intensity brought about by technological advancement has been more than offset by the pace of aggregate coal consumption growth. In coming years, further gains will become even harder and more expensive to achieve, as the low-hanging fruit is taken. 

Strong absolute coal caps are needed not only for Beijing, but also surrounding provinces. We haven’t, however, seen corresponding measures from Hebei and Shandong. Neither have we seen any concrete progress or timetable of implementation for the long proposed mechanism to coordinate regional air pollution control. 

Mounting concern over health 

The time for policy action is increasingly limited. Air pollution is already taking a heavy toll on a restive public. An estimated 8,572 premature deaths occurred in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xi’an – four major Chinese cities – last year due to high levels of PM2.5 pollution, and caused US$1.08 billion in economic losses, according to research by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health. A separate study by the WHO Global Burden of Disease project suggests that PM2.5 caused 1.2 million deaths in 2010 in China. 

Worse, Greenpeace projects that, based on 2008 to 2012 reduction rates in particulate-matter concentrations, and given current policy efforts, Beijing will only meet the national air quality standard in 2031. That means it will take even longer for Beijing to meet the World Health Organisation standard, since the current national standard is looser than the international one. 

A feasible roadmap to get rid of coal has already been outlined by various commentators. Deutsche Bank said in a recent report that nothing less than “big bang” measures could combat China’s air pollution, and recommended the country halve its coal-consumption annual growth rate from the 4% currently forecast for 2013 to 2017. Another 22% of coal consumption should be cut from 2017 to 2030, the bank said. It also called for a reduction in coal-related emissions by about 70% over the next 18 years. 

Two pathways are unfolding in front of China’s policymakers. The path of unbridled, unsustainable GDP growth at all costs that ignores the health of its citizens, or a greener, cleaner kind of growth powered by smart investments in new energy, and guided by effective environmental policies and practices. As the nation’s renowned respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan bluntly put it on the sidelines of the parliamentary meetings last month: “When people’s health is at risk, how can we still put GDP first?"

Li Shuo and Lauri Myllyvirta are climate and energy campaigners at Greenpeace

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匿名 | Anonymous


这篇博客给我最大的感觉是, 共同但有区别的责任怎么被颠倒成这个样子了, 北京做为中国收入最高,消费也最高的地区之一, 在污染问题上真的是无辜受害的小白兔?

@海外阿Q: 说句北京人不爱听的话:在北京附近的地区为了保护北京环境而放弃发展与当地经济水平相匹配的工业,却未能得到北京市的任何补偿,形成了环北京贫困带。每次北京公知声讨政府保护环境不利,却不知整个华北都在吃风沙烧煤,仅有的资源全顾着北京

@海外阿Q: 北京的环境变化不是最近的事,九十年代延长气田开始专供北京,冬天改烧天然气和脱硫煤是最大的改进,三北防护林八十年代就开始建设,首钢燕山搬出北京,环北京贫困带形成等等都是十年以前的事


别的不说, 所谓“北京成功实现了自身的迅速减排”,有多少是靠污染转移? 不但天然气等清洁能源优先供应北京,而且山东、河北的火电厂, 向北京输送了不少电能吧? 北京把污染的大头留在了当地享受了清洁的电能, 现有有一些污染随风又飘回北京了, 不反思这种以邻为壑的走捷径污染转移方案的问题, 却一味抱怨其实是更大受害者的周围省份, 讲理吗?

煤炭总量控制没错, 但北京把那么多工业都转移出来了, 人均碳排放依然远高于全国平均
要改善空气, 最需要的从自己做起, 而不是一味要求已经为北京做出巨大牺牲的周围省份。 说句政治不正确的话,如果北京油价和欧洲接轨(汽油国五标准倒是已经和欧洲接轨了), 相信空气质量一定大为改善,可是,北京开车族愿意吗? 毕竟, PM 2. 5 里面汽车尾气占1/4; 对雾霾同样贡献巨大的氮氧化物,汽车尾气更是占大头。

最后推荐一篇文章供大家思考 “骂政府容易,反污染的代价你愿承担吗?”


中国的污染已经到了不得不治理的时候。先富起来的人群应该首先负担起反污染的代价, 环保NGO 应该承担起在这方面教育中产阶级的重任, 而不是为了迎合中产阶级附和实质上的环保殖民主义。

People who gets rich first should take more responsibility to tackle environmental problems

What struck me most after reading this blog was how can “common but differentiated responsibilities” be distorted like that? Is Beijing, one of richest regions in China, really an innocent victim of pollution?

Here are two Weibo posts,
@海外阿Q:Beijing citizens can't be happy to hear this: In order to protect Beijing's environment, neighbouring regions have to sacrifice their own industrial development. However, they haven't had any compensation from the Beijing government, leading to a belt of poverty around Beijing. Every time Beijing intellectuals criticise local government for their failure on environment protection, they have no idea that people in North China are struggling with windy and dusty weather and coal burning pollution. The only resources they have are all given to Beijing.

@海外阿Q: Changes to Beijing's environment don't happen overnight. Since the 1990s, gas fields have been extended, exclusively to supply Beijing. Switching to natural gas and desulfurised coal for energy in winter were the biggest improvements. The 'Three-North Shelter Forest' programme also started in 1980s. The Shougang Group and Yansan Petrochemical moved out of Beijing and the Beijing poverty belt all happened 10 years ago.

This is all true, isn't it?

And then when it refers to the fact "Beijing successfully achieved their goal on emissions reductions", how much of this was achieved by transferring pollution to other regions? Natural gas and other clean energy is prioritised for Beijing. Also, power plants in Shandong and Hebei have transmitted large amount of thermal power to Beijing. The capital enjoys clean energy and leaves behind pollution in other regions. Right now, wind brings pollution back to Beijing. Beijing has blamed the surrounding regions that are actually the real victims of pollution. Does this make sense?

Controlling coal consumption is a good. But after moving a large number of industries out of the city, Beijing’s per capita emission is still much higher than the national average. Please see http://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/20120504/044611982915.shtml

In order to improve the air quality, Beijing has to start with itself rather than transferring the blame onto neighbouring regions that have already made great sacrifices.

If Beijing's oil prices were in line with Europe's, air quality would be much better. However, will Beijing car owners be happy? Exhaust fumes account for one quarter of PM2.5 pollution. What’s more, exhaust fumes are also a major source of nitrogen oxide which leads to severe smoggy weather.

Finally, I recommend you read this article titled 'It’s easy to criticise the government, but are you willing to pay the price of tackling pollution?' http://www.guancha.cn/DeSiMeng/2013_04_02_136090.shtml

Everyone knows that exhaust fumes are a major source of PM2.5, but the public complains about high oil prices. This shows how selfish people are. They use resources and let others suffer the pollution. And the government should be criticised for insufficient supervision. When the government takes action to investigate capitalists, it has been seen as suppressing private capital; when it penalises dairy farmers, it has been seen as exploiting farmers, to bans littering, it has been seen as urban management officers‘ fault. Let alone raising oil price, it will trigger anger across the country.

Immediate action must be taken to tackle pollution problems. People who get rich first should take more responsibility to tackle environmental issues. Environmental NGOs should educate and raise middle classes' awareness of environmental protection, rather than catering for their environmental colonialism.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Large environmental protection enacted by the State

The development of relevant regulations must be strict, but officials care tremendously about their achievements. The dilemma is environmental protection begin with the individual.