China recently announced a program to reduce its notoriously bad air pollution by limiting industrial emissions and outlawing older vehicles from its streets and highways. Air pollution, as was noted in a recent study (see blog entry for April 2, 2013) was responsible for 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, and these new air pollution measures are a response to the public outcry for reducing urban air pollution. Read the New York Times story here. Major points from that article follow:
“The Chinese government announced an ambitious plan on Thursday to curb air pollution across the nation, including setting some limits on burning coal and taking high-polluting vehicles off the roads to ensure a drop in the concentration of particulate matter in cities.
The plan, released by the State Council, China’s cabinet, filled in a broad outline that the government had issued this year. It represents the most concrete response yet by the Communist Party and the government to growing criticism over allowing the country’s air, soil and water to degrade to abysmal levels because of corruption and unchecked economic growth.
The criticism has been especially pronounced in some of China’s largest cities, where anxious residents grapple with choking smog that can persist for days and even weeks. In January, the concentration of fine particulate matter in Beijing reached 40 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization. Environmental advocates, including some at Greenpeace East Asia, said the plan did not go far enough, while others praised it for at least acknowledging some of the basic causes of the country’s chronic air pollution. But there was wide agreement that the ultimate test would come in how it is carried out and enforced.
“The plan successfully identifies the root cause of air pollution in China: China’s industrial structure,” said Ma Jun, a prominent environmental advocate. “Industrialization determines the structure of energy consumption. If China does not upgrade its coal-dependent industries, coal consumption can never be curbed.” he said. “The key to preventing air pollution is to curb coal burning — China burns half of all the coal consumed in the world.”
Under the new plan, concentrations of fine particulate matter must be reduced by 25 percent in the Beijing-Tianjian-Hebei area in the north, 20 percent in the Yangtze River Delta in the east and 15 percent in the Pearl River Delta in the south, compared with 2012 levels.All other cities must reduce the levels of larger particulate matter, known as PM 10, by 10 percent. It is unclear why the plan calls for a looser standard for other cities, since the fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, is considered deadlier than PM 10 because it can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream
For years, Chinese officials kept measurements of PM 2.5 from the public. But many Chinese in Beijing turned to a Twitter feed from the United States Embassy to see the hourly PM 2.5 reading from a monitoring machine on the embassy rooftop. That, in turn, put pressure on the government to have cities start releasing their PM 2.5 measurements. Beijing began reporting PM 2.5 levels in January 2012, and the official Xinhua news agency has reported that 74 cities are supposed to be releasing their PM 2.5 data this year. On Thursday, pollution climbed to levels that the embassy rated “very unhealthy,” with a PM 2.5 concentration at 10 p.m. at 213 micrograms per cubic meter. Much of the city’s downtown skyline was obscured by a thick haze.
Coal consumption has grown rapidly in China, and the plan places only modest limits on consumption, with coal to account for no more than 65 percent of energy use in 2017, compared with around 67 percent last year. Some of the plan’s critics said they were disappointed that there were no specific limits on coal consumption by region. The plan allows local governments to set those limits on their own.”