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Friday, 13 September 2013

China Pollution Plan 'Lacks Detail' on Precise Causes of Smog

China Pollution Plan 'Lacks Detail' on Precise Causes of Smog

china-smokestack-jan-2013.jpg
Waste gas is emitted from a chimney amid heavy smog in Jilin province, Jan. 26, 2013.
 ImagineChina
China's master plan for cleaning up its eye-watering air pollution problem will require tough law enforcement if it is to become a reality, and lacks clear information about the precise causes of smog, analysts said on Friday.

Beijing on Thursday rolled out a "multi-pronged" policy aimed at ridding its cities of the health-threatening swathes of brown smog that plague them by targeting coal consumption and boosting supplies of clean energy, official media reported.

The plan aims to reduce coal consumption to less than 65 percent of China's total primary energy sector by 2017, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

But Sichuan-based environmental activist Yang Yong said there was still a lack of clarity on the causes of the most harmful forms of air pollution, suspended particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5.

"We need statistics about the factors behind suspended particulate matter and what weight they carry [in the overall picture]," Yang said. "For example, coal-fired power stations, stoves, car exhausts and other industrial sources of pollution."

"[We need to know] exactly what percentage they are responsible for. This has to be made clear," he said.

The air pollution policy orders a ban on new coal-fired power plants in the northern region around Beijing and Tianjin, the Yangtze river delta, and the Pearl river delta near the southern city of Guangzhou, Xinhua reported.

By contrast, Beijing plans to greatly increase its reliance on nuclear power, boosting nuclear generating capacity to 50 million kilowatts by 2017, while the share of non-fossil fuel energy will be raised to 13 percent of the sector.

Government initiatives will aim to improve energy efficiency in industry by 20 percent by 2017, compared with last year, it said.

However, Yang said the plan focuses only on the richer, coastal regions of the country and doesn't take into account weather patterns and the contribution made by power plants and industry in western China.

"We need investigations into the causes of suspended particulate matter air pollution, and into wind direction and pollution flows, and then we need to move to clean it up," he said.

Targeting coal

Under the government's plan, combined heat and power plants will gradually replace decentralized coal-fired boilers in industry clusters of chemical engineering, papermaking, dyeing and tanning, in a bid to slash emissions.

Meanwhile, coal-fired plants, steel mills and cement plants will be retrofitted with desulfurization, denitrification and dedusting facilities, Xinhua said.

According to Beijing University of Science and Technology professor Hu Xingdou, coal-fired power plants are an obvious target for the government, because they create visible environmental devastation in their immediate vicinity.

"There is a far lower proportion of coal-fired generators in the United States and Europe, and China should be looking to those countries as an example," Hu said.

But he said tough enforcement of environmental penalties would be needed for the new policies to take effect.

"This will need strong law enforcement measures," Hu said. "Also, there has to be integration between equipment used in power generation, motor vehicle design and the new standards for combustion."

Under the plan, the government aims to clear heavy-polluting "yellow-label" vehicles from roads across the country by 2017, Xinhua said.

Yang said it wouldn't be enough simply to raise standards, and that owners of older vehicles should be forced to scrap them.

"Some of the older cars and machinery in use in agriculture are very old indeed, and really should be discarded," he said.

'Airpocalypse'

China's ruling Chinese Communist Party has announced a serious of measures in recent months aimed at combating pollution, in particular northern China's now intractable smog problem, known colloquially as "airpocalypse."

But experts have warned it will take a long time to contain the extensive damage that has been done to the environment, and that the smog is the result of decades of build-up in the atmosphere.

Around 600 million people are affected by air pollution and smog days that plague northern China, according to a July report from China's State Development and Reform Commission.

And a recent report by the American National Academy of Sciences found that residents of northern China could lose five years of life expectancy compared with those in the south, which has better air quality.

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