News / Asia

Beijing Smog Puts China’s Anti-Pollution Policies Under Scrutiny

Air pollution hangs over the skyline as the sun rises over Beijing’s central business district. Dense smog shrouded the city with pollution at hazardous levels for a fourth day and residents were advised to stay indoors, January 14, 2013.
Air pollution hangs over the skyline as the sun rises over Beijing’s central business district. Dense smog shrouded the city with pollution at hazardous levels for a fourth day and residents were advised to stay indoors, January 14, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
The Chinese government has announced several emergency steps to combat the worsening air pollution in the capital
 
Record levels of smog in Beijing in recent days have led China to acknowledge an urgent need for changes to its rapid economic growth model. 

The Chinese government also has taken other actions to combat the worsening air pollution in the capital in recent years. But some Chinese policies seem to have made matters worse, and others appear to lack proper enforcement. 
 
Under one emergency measure introduced on Sunday, Beijing’s environmental protection bureau suspended construction at 28 building sites around the city. 
 
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the bureau also ordered 54 manufacturers to reduce their emissions of polluting gases by 30 percent. It said one factory operated by Beijing Hyundai Motor Company shut down completely.

  • Women wearing face masks run to cross a street in Beijing, May 6, 2013. The United States Embassy monitor on air quality in China classified the quality of air in Beijing as "hazardous."
  • A man rows a boat on a river during a hazy morning in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, June 16, 2013. 
  • A man wearing a mask is seen on a street in Beijing, May 2, 2013. Street-level anger over air pollution that blanketed many northern cities this winter spilled over into online appeals for Beijing to clean water supplies.
  • A statue of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong is seen in front of buildings during a hazy day in Shenyang, Liaoning province, May 7, 2013. 
  • Beijing schools kept children indoors, January 14, 2013, and hospitals saw a spike in respiratory cases following a weekend of excessive pollution in China's smoggy capital.
  • A teacher leads her students doing body exercises during class break in a classroom on a foggy day in Jinan, Shandong province, January 14, 2013.
  • Cranes atop a residential building under construction in central Beijing, April 18, 2012.
  • Smoke billows from a chimney of a heating plant in Beijing, February 13, 2012.
  • Haze blankets the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, as seen from inside the Olympic Green area during the Olympics, August 7, 2008.
  • A coal-burning power station at night in Xiangfan, Hubei province, September 15, 2009.
  • Paramilitary policemen practice drills inside the Forbidden City amid haze in central Beijing, December 4, 2011.
  • Buildings in Beijing are pictured on an evening with heavy haze and smog, October 28, 2011.
While such steps may help to reduce the smog in the short run, China faces a much bigger challenge in dealing with the root causes of the problem. Some of those are beyond the government’s immediate control, such as environmental conditions that trap pollutants in the atmosphere. 
 
The current smog crisis in Beijing came about when an unusual winter weather system brought fog and light winds to the region. That combination prevented the smog from dispersing, but forecasters expect the winds to pick up by Wednesday. 
 
Too many skyscrapers 
 
Ping He, head of the Washington-based International Fund for China's Environment, said another problem for the Chinese capital is the density of its skyscrapers. 
 
“There is not enough space and green land between the buildings, so the trapped pollution does not have room to flow around,” he told VOA's Michael Lipin. “That definitely has some impact on the air quality in the downtown area.”
 
Beyond the city center, the mountains around Beijing act as a barrier that contains the smog.
 
The Chinese government has focused its anti-smog policies on the man-made causes that emit pollutants into the air. 
 
One of the key causes is exhaust fumes from Beijing’s five million vehicles, many of them private cars, whose popularity is on the rise. 
 
Dominic Meagher, an economist with the China Policy Institute in Beijing, said authorities have tried to control the number of new cars on the streets. 
 
 “Sometimes it can take up to two years to drive a new car, just because you have to go into a lottery to get a license plate,” he told VOA. “So the authorities do a lot to limit traffic.” 
 
Too many older vehicles 
 
Ping He said the Beijing municipality also has tightened standards for vehicle emissions. “Beijing has among the highest emission standards in China for new vehicles," he said, "compatible with those of the European Union.” 
 
But the environmental fund president said the Chinese capital also is filled with exhaust from many older, higher-emission vehicles that the government has not yet replaced. 
 
Coal burning also is a major contributor to Beijing’s smog problem. 
 
Chinese power plants burn the fossil fuel throughout the year to generate electricity for the capital’s rapidly growing infrastructure. Beijing residents also burn coal at home to keep themselves warm in winter. 
 
Jennifer Turner, a China environment analyst at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center, said China has done an “admirable” job of moving coal-fired power plants out of Beijing since before the 2008 Olympics. She adds that China also has been developing new coal plants that are among the most efficient in the world. 
 
Growth causes more pollution 
 
“The challenge is that that they already had a lot of coal plants, and they have been building more,” Turner said. “Electricity use has been surging for the past 20 years and China needs the energy to keep its economy going.”
 
China also has relocated high-polluting factories such as steel producers away from Beijing during the past decade. In their place, Ping He said, many small manufacturing plants have emerged in the region. “The emissions (of those factories) are subject to strict environmental controls and standards, but they are not implemented effectively,” he said.
 
Turner said one weakness of those regulations is that some reporting of emissions data by manufacturers is voluntary. 
 
“The Chinese ministry of environmental protection’s data-reporting system needs more teeth, and the companies need to be made more accountable,” she said. The analyst noted that recent improvements in the quantity of air-pollution data that the government releases to the public may help to achieve that accountability. 
 
Since last year, China has been releasing information about the most dangerous air pollution particles in more than 70 cities-  and started issuing hourly updates in some cases. 
 
“Having hourly data limits the opportunity for data to be tampered with, and it really can be quite empowering to the communities,” Turner said. 
 
 “Chinese citizens and environmental groups are ever more eagerly playing the role of watchdog. That could really help the government in enforcing regulations and imposing fines on companies exceeding their emission limits.” 
 
Victor Beattie contributed to this report.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Schneider from: B.R.Deutschland
January 15, 2013 2:39 AM
Air pollution caused by Chinese people is another annoyance that is given to neighboring countries. Chinese people will consume with zeal all food, all natural resources, and even all fresh air in the world. PRC government looks like wasting bunch of money in the expansion of its military, without improving environmental conditions and even its nationals' living conditions. Poor Chinese nationals!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid