Oct 02

Beijing’s New Air Pollution Control Measures

Written by Allen on Thursday, October 2nd, 2008 at 7:30 am
Filed under:-mini-posts, aside, culture, Environment, General, News, politics | Tags:, ,
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Whatever your views on the proper role of government in societal, cultural, and economic affairs, few would argue against the government’s role (if not duty) in helping to confront the myriad environmental problems facing modern industrialized societies.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Beijing officials are considering how to leverage measures used in the lead up to the Olympics (which included the relocation and closure of hundreds of polluting factories near Beijing, the temporary cessation of construction activities in and around the city, and restrictions on the number of cars on the roads) to keep Beijing’s air cleaner on a more permanent basis.

In case you missed it, during the Olympics, the levels of most major pollutants in Beijing was reduced by about half, to levels more typically seen in major developed cities in the West.

According to the Wall Street article,

The government recently has encouraged an unusual amount of public debate over what price the city is willing to pay for cleaner air. It has published the results of opinion polls on automobile restrictions that show the public more or less split.

The article also noted:

[Officials have been considering] steps [such as] increasing parking fees to discourage driving; charging people to drive in congested downtown areas, as London and some other cities do; and auctioning license plates to reduce the number of cars added to the roads.

Curbing auto use [however] could hurt one of China’s pillar industries, car-industry advocates warn. The Beijing Auto Industry Association instead advocates higher fuel prices — a move also favored by some environmentalists who want a long-discussed fuel tax enacted.

Just yesterday, the government announced a new set of plans (see Xin Hua araticle and Washington Post article) that aims to remove some 300,000 of the most heavily polluting vehicles from the road over the next year.  In addition, normal cars will be restricted off the road one day out of the week (which day depends on the license plate number). The plan also calls for removing 30% of government vehicles off the road at any given one time.

The plans appear to be multifaceted.  According to the Washington Post article,

In addition to the traffic changes, businesses will begin staggering their hours, with large department stores opening at 10 a.m. and other offices beginning work between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., state media reports said. Parking fees downtown will also be increased to encourage people to use public transportation. The rules will last until April, when officials will decide whether to continue the restrictions.

While the impact of these new rules will have to be assessed in the future, there is no doubt that many people in Beijing do want some actions taken.

Car salesman Liu Ce, manager of Beijing Xinshan Trade Center, said the city should do more to improve public transportation “so that people will choose public transportation naturally instead of forcing people to do so or irritating people who want to buy new cars.”

[But many also] questioned whether government drivers would obey the new rule and said motorists feel overwhelmed.

“Drivers already feel numb,” said telecommunications engineer Li Haibin, 29. “People got used to the faster driving times during the last few months. Now, wherever I go, there’s a traffic jam.”

What are your thoughts about these new regulations?

Do you think they will lead to better air in Beijing on a more permanent basis?

Should the government do more?  If so, what else should the government do?

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13 Responses to “Beijing’s New Air Pollution Control Measures”

  1. Kage Musha Says:

    The central government should do more on a national level. They shouldn’t only just foccus on the areas/cities which have heavy polution but also the up-coming booming areas/cities. Only this way they won’t keep running behind the facts.
    Preventing instead of cleaning up is more efficient and it will also give new opportunities and a headstart.
    The biggest problem for the central government is to find a balance between still having a high economic growth or less economic growth in the short term.
    I believe in the long run it will even out when chosing for less high economic growth in short term. But I assume they have experts to calculate that.

  2. Allen Says:

    Hmmm … I wonder why there is not more comments on this post …

    I had thought people would be opinionated on this issue.

    @Kage Musha – you definitely have a good point that in general, prevention is cheaper than cleaning up (an ounce of prevention today is worth a pound of treatment later). But in terms of planning, are you referring mainly to city planning (i.e. layout of city so people don’t have to communte so much between home and work) or technology planning (i.e. designing buildings that are more green, thus consuming less energy, which places less strain on regional power plants)? Or something else?

  3. Charles Liu Says:

    I think Beijing air pollution thing is pretty much beaten to death, and there’s not much people can disagree on – China’s pollution is an issue (and not unlike other nations that went thru development.)

    BTW, Sunbin recently put up two photos of Beijing sky.

  4. vadaga Says:

    @Allen, I am very interested in this sort of topic, so thanks for posting.

    It will be really interesting to see what effect the measures will have on driving conditions in Beijing. I can’t help but think that while they may do some measurable good, but that measures such 1 day a week of mandatory rest for each auto plus retiring 300,0000 old vehicles are probably not severe enough to make a significant difference, and that a lot of the government drivers in Beijing will probably ignore them anyway. That being said, the rules are at least a symbolic step towards cleaner air in Beijing.

    @Kagemusha I had an interesting discussion on economic growth recently with a friend who is working in shipping logistics in the import-export business in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. He was telling me about the hard hit that his clients’ factories were taking from economic slowdown and a stronger RMB, and that he thought the Chinese economy has really strong fundamental problems and may be in for a depression. My response was to ask if he really thought that the days of 8-10% GDP growth could have continued forever… I really don’t think that is the case, so of course I feel that the current problems are just payback to the bosses for not having the sense to reinvest tons of their profits into R&D when times were good.

  5. Kage Musha Says:

    Yes, it is strange that there are not many comments on this post.

    It should go both ways, That’s why I’m pleading for a more national environment policy.
    When the cities are growing/booming, lots of things are built, exactly in that period city planning it utmost important. The city officials may/will have different goals in mind and that would be to grow as fast as possible without looking more into the future. Only the central government will have (hopefully) this insight and also has the possibilities to direct this.
    As with technology, already now new buildings are built in more green ways. I have friends who work as consultants or architects and are working or have worked in projects in Shanghai. Alot of thought is going in in re-using energy etc. But this also needs more national attention and should not just be concentrated in SH or a handful other (big) cities.
    People might hate the current form of the seating government, but this sort of government has the ‘power’ to set the guidelines.

    Yes, sadly the current companies are focussing too much on the short term profits, While the government has made plans to go to a less-production reliant economy and more-R&D economy. The companies have not caught on to this view yet. But in a market economy…when one company doesn’t do it another will step in. New opportunities for the right-minded people.

  6. Allen Says:

    @Charles Liu

    I think Beijing air pollution thing is pretty much beaten to death, and there’s not much people can disagree on – China’s pollution is an issue (and not unlike other nations that went thru development.)

    Yes – I agree, the Beijing Air thing has been beaten to death. But what I am trying to get at is not to bring attention to Beijing’s air issues, but the role the government should play.

    If the Chinese government prides itself on developing socialism with Chinese characteristics – where economic development takes place in the backdrop of political stability – given Chinese government’s unprecedented power and reach (as Kage Musha mentioned above), to what extent should the Chinese government inject environmental guidelines into economic policies? How?

  7. Michelle Says:

    Traffic is just terrible now in Beijing and too many cars are driving in the bike lanes (my pet peeve).

    I think the gov’t should curb the cars ala August, but as cold cold winter gets closer and closer and Olympic euphoria fades, it will be difficult to enforce. It’s a shame that the general feeling is that environmental problems are something that we just must suffer through for the sake of development, whereas there is a real opportunity to leap-frog over some of these problems, like Beijing traffic. In terms of traffic, Beijing could be (could have been?) a model to many big cities around the world, developing and developed alike, something that really would take top-down political system to implement quickly and efficiently.

  8. Jerry Says:

    Here is an interesting piece I found out at CDT. It is about an MIT study of Chinese power plants. Here is a snippet from the article below, which at least holds hope for correcting a portion of the pollution problems:

    “Contrary to what many outsiders believe, the Chinese state has substantially improved its ability to implement and enforce rules on technology standards. It has been slower, however, to develop such abilities for monitoring the day-to-day operations of energy producers.”

    MIT report debunks China energy myth
    The problem isn’t in the technology, it’s the operations
    David Chandler, MIT News Office
    October 6, 2008

    A detailed analysis of powerplants in China by MIT researchers debunks the widespread notion that outmoded energy technology or the utter absence of government regulation is to blame for that country’s notorious air-pollution problems. The real issue, the study found, involves complicated interactions between new market forces, new commercial pressures and new types of governmental regulation.

    China’s power sector has been expanding at a rate roughly equivalent to three to four new coal-fired, 500 megawatt plants coming on line every week, said Edward S. Steinfeld, associate professor of political science at MIT.

    After detailed survey and field research involving dozens of managers at 85 power plants across 14 Chinese provinces, Steinfeld and his co-authors, Richard Lester (professor, nuclear science and engineering and director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center) and Edward Cunningham (doctoral candidate, political science) found that in fact most of the new plants have been built to very high technical standards, using some of the most modern technologies available. The problem has to do with the way that energy infrastructure is being operated and the types of coals being burned.

    New market pressures encourage plant managers to buy the cheapest, lowest quality and most-polluting coal available, while at the same time idle expensive-to-operate smokestack scrubbers or other cleanup technologies. The physical infrastructure is advanced, but the emissions performance ends up decidedly retrograde.

    Understanding the realities of China’s energy infrastructure and management is crucial, Steinfeld said, for gaining leverage over the whole gamut of global energy-related challenges. China’s electric power sector is vast — second only to America’s in size — and globally unparalleled in terms of the speed of its growth. “To a significant degree, our planet’s energy and environmental future is now being written in China,” he and his two co-authors wrote in a recent MIT Industrial Performance Center working paper (PDF available). Findings from the research have also recently been published in The China Economic Quarterly and an additional paper is currently under review at Energy Policy.

    Steinfeld, who has been working in China since the late 1980s and has been carrying out this research project there since 2005, said that at present the Chinese government lacks reliable data on how the nation’s powerplants are built and operated. Officially available data tend to be collected haphazardly and often by local authorities who have a vested interest in the outcomes. The survey work conducted by Steinfeld and his colleagues represents a first-of-its-kind effort by outsiders to collect unbiased, objective data of this sort at a national level.

    One of the most surprising findings was that “the kinds of technology currently being adopted in China are not cheap. They’re not buying junk, and in some cases the plants are employing state-of-the-art technology.”

    The findings suggest that emissions levels from Chinese powerplants, he said, “depend almost entirely on the quality of the coal they use. When they’re hit by price spikes, they buy low-grade coal.” Lower-grade coal, which produces high levels of sulfur emissions, can be obtained locally, whereas the highest-grade anthracite comes mostly from China’s northwest and must travel long distances to the plants, adding greatly to its cost. Contrary to what many outsiders believe, the Chinese state has substantially improved its ability to implement and enforce rules on technology standards. It has been slower, however, to develop such abilities for monitoring the day-to-day operations of energy producers.

    In some respects, the situation is more amenable to change than many people had assumed, Steinfeld said. With expanding regulatory capacity and increasingly sophisticated efforts to regulate through market-friendly pricing mechanisms, reformers could achieve change relatively quickly, he said. “At least the technology — the physical infrastructure of China’s energy system — is not an impediment,” he said. Indeed, it can ultimately prove a key asset for achieving better environmental outcomes.

    Since coal quality is one important leverage point, “some new regulatory efforts probably need to be focused on the mines and coal markets,” Steinfeld suggested. “That’s the kind of question that this research begins to allow you to address.”

    The three co-authors of the study are members of the Industrial Performance Center’s China Energy Group. The research was supported by Shell, the MIT Energy Initiative, and the MIT Sloan School of Management China Program.

    A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 8, 2008 (download PDF).


  9. Allen Says:

    Jerry – thanks for this! So the air pollution is a political problem (or maybe economical problem) – not a technological problem – that is an eye opener to me!

  10. Weide Says:

    Just to let you guys now,the reading today individually done with an IQair particle reader was 1.4 million particles per qm2. At such a level your life expactancy will be less than on healthy levels. This rating does not even fit on the charts of the WTO. By the way, as the charts officially have a maximum level, any reading above that level is registered under the category of the maximum level, whoch enable sthe Chinese government to show an annual average pollution level which is below the real data. Also the government has located their testing machines next to parks ect to get better ratings. On days like today though that would be quite insignificant, I can hardly see a block down the road, and no its not foggy, as i read the humidity rating at being 15% – desert. Sorry thats the truth 🙁

  11. Wukailong Says:

    Today’s been really bad, I agree, but yesterday was quite good. I’m going to wait a couple of weeks to see if it seems to have gotten back to its previous bad shape, or if it was just one bad day.

  12. Weide Says:

    as long as it is windy the air will be good


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