China has woken up to the smell of air pollution
“Both natural and human factors contributed to the lingering smog, including coal-burning, pollutant emissions and unfavourable weather conditions,” vice minister of environmental protection Wu Xiaoqing told Xinhua.
“China will formulate regulations, standards and policies to reduce air pollutants and control coal-burning.”
Coal-fired power stations account for over 70 per cent of China’s energy production.
China’s cabinet, the State Council, is aiming to cap the rise in the amount of coal used to make energy by 2015.
Annual energy consumption growth will be set at 4.3 per cent by 2015, slowing from the 6.6 per cent annual growth realised between 2006 and 2010, according to an energy plan related to the 12th Five Year Plan.
The slack will be taken up by renewable energies, such as hydro, wind and solar, plus nuclear power.
Greenpeace is lobbying hard for a coal cap. It also wants “DeNOx” end-of-pipe systems for removing nitrogen oxides in older power stations, and in sectors that are burning a lot of coal, such as the cement industry.
Another major cause of the smog is vehicle emissions. The Chinese Academy of Sciences reckons they account for about one-fifth of the small particulate emissions. Nearly 20 million cars were sold here last year, making China the world leader in car sales.
The sulphur content of vehicle fuel is very high. In Beijing, personal and public vehicles contribute the largest proportion of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants to the atmosphere.
Last week, the State Council said a new, low-sulphur standard for automotive diesel would become mandatory by the end of next year, and that an even stricter, low-sulphur standard for both gasoline and diesel would come into effect by 2017.
This marks a big victory for the ministry of environmental protection, which has fought for the introduction of better quality fuel for years now. The big state-owned oil companies, Sinopec, CNPC and CNOOC, which have political muscle, have successfully resisted such measures for years.
So who will pay for the better quality fuel, which will cost more to refine? In China, the government fixes fuel prices. Higher fuel prices, like anywhere else, are a political issue. In this case, the cost will be borne by the government, the oil companies and the consumers.
Recycling billionaire Chen Guangbiao has been selling cans of fresh air from remote provinces such Xinjiang, to highlight the dangers of smog, and his message is finding traction among the citizenry.
“I want to tell mayors, county chiefs and heads of big companies: don’t just chase GDP growth, don’t chase the biggest profits at the expense of our children and grandchildren and at the cost of sacrificing our ecological environment,” said Mr Chen.