China’s new Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Action Plan

by John Brian Shannon

Reports of China’s notoriously bad, air, land, and water pollution, have reached the upper echelons of power in the People’s Republic of China, where those concerns appear to have been taken with the utmost seriousness by the country’s leadership and are now translated into a far-reaching policy document.

Over a billion Chinese citizens face sustained exposure to rapidly-increasing air pollution levels, as the government sets new air quality regulations. Image courtesy:

The Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Action Plan outlines the plan of action to be undertaken throughout China’s command and control economy to improve the air quality in heavily-industrialized and heavily-populated regions of the country.

The central theme of the policy document is one of environmental social responsibility at the end-user level, with enforcement that includes criminal charges against those individuals, businesses, or organizations which do not meet the newly-drafted regulatory standards by 2017.

All effort is now being directed towards meeting the targets by the specified date. Three years and three months, is not a lot of time to accomplish the goals as set out in the document — especially when one considers the sheer magnitude of the air pollution problem there.

Some excerpts of the original Chinese language policy document are provided below. Google Translate provides a very literal translation — therefore, some much-needed polishing was done by this authour. Please bear this in mind.

Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Action Plan

State Council on the issuance of air pollution control action plan notification – Guo Fa [2013] No.37

To: Provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities:

[‘Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Action Plan’ opening statement]

Atmospheric environmental protection is related to people’s fundamental interests, is related to sustained and healthy economic development, is related to building a moderately prosperous society, and is related to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese national dream. The present air pollution situation in China is grim with regards to respirable particulate matter (PM10), fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and is characterized by regional atmospheric pollutant environmental issues becoming increasingly prominent, which harm people’s health and affect social harmony and stability. As China’s industrialization, urbanization, and energy resource consumption continues to increase, air pollution control pressures must keep pace. This action plan was developed to effectively improve air quality.”

Beijing, Tianjin, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta are the regions singled-out for massive improvements to their present air quality, although other regions are mentioned and are also directed to participate to the best of their ability.

The impression one gets is that regulatory supervision and any criminal charges, are most likely to be seen in those heavily-industrialized and heavily-populated regions — as opposed to less-industrialized regions of the country.

Two more exerpts for you:

Goal: After five years of effort, the country will see an overall improvement in air quality. ‘Heavy weather-borne pollution’ will see a substantial decrease; Beijing, Tianjin, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta, regional air quality will show significant improvement. We will strive for five years or longer, for the gradual elimination of heavy weather-borne pollution, and significant national air quality improvements.

Specific targets: By 2017, the national level and above cities respirable particulate matter concentration ratio will decrease by 10% or more, when compared to 2012 levels; clear days will gradually increase; Beijing, Tianjin, the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta and other areas with fine particulate matter concentrations, decreasing by 25%, 20%, 15%, of which the average annual concentration of fine particulate matter in Beijing is now controlled to 60 micrograms/cubic meters.

Considering where China is now, these are lofty ambitions. But from our perspective and theirs, let’s hope that they are ultimately successful in their efforts — and that each success on the environmental front spurs the Chinese leadership to even greater efforts.

If it sounds like I’m a cheerleader for Chinese efforts in this area, it is because I am.

China is producing well over 7.2 billion tons of CO2 per year (2010 numbers) and these numbers can only rise, as one new coal-fired power plant is added to the national grid each week (on average) since January 2008, and is set to continue until 2020.

Yes, you read that right. From January 2008, through till 2020, China will have completed construction of (and added to the grid) one coal-fired power plant per week.

(Regarding the plants built since 2011, they have a very successful nitrous oxide reduction system installed, and coal dust and fly ash are now better controlled by means of water spray).

And worse pollutants than CO2 come out of the hundreds of thousands of fossil fuel smokestacks in the country (many homes burn cheap, but toxic brown coal). CO2 is one thing, but nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, airborne refrigerant gases and other nasties are emitted by the millions or even billions of tons from existing smokestacks. Not to mention horrendous particulate levels (parts-per-million, or even parts-per-thousand levels, in very severely polluted areas) that people and livestock must breathe daily.

It goes without saying that the world’s air mass circulates around the planet once every 10-12 days. Soon enough, the air pollution produced in China finds its way to North America, Europe, and most of Asia. Most particulate matter stays within the country, although huge clouds of very fine particulate can travel thousands of miles per week.

The world’s biggest polluter, China is also the biggest spender (since 2011) on renewable energy. Some 382 billion dollars of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects were begun — in 2012 alone.

China has more wind turbines and more offshore wind turbines, than any country in the world (although U.S. wind power output was slightly higher than China’s last year, due to better turbine performance and better wind corridors) and China is second only to Germany for total installed solar panels. Huge spending on wind and solar by China, will ensure that they will be the dominant solar and wind power generators on the planet, easily surpassing the U.S. and Germany sometime in 2014.

Projecting ahead through 2015/16/17, China will continue to pull far ahead in total GigaWatts of renewable energy output. However, they will also continue to lead the world in both, coal-fired power generation and the rate of installation of new coal-fired power generation.

Will we see clearing skies for China’s air pollution problem?

Not any time soon. But massive, and bound to be historic change, is now underway and it will be interesting to see how a statist economy can institute a sense of social responsibility for the environment among its citizens — while at the same time using the command and control system to enforce pragmatic, but increasingly necessary change on business and industry.

Anyone who breathes the air on this planet, should wish them well.

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