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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid