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.
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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid