Air pollution: a shift in crisis

While air pollution from the coal sector is coming under control, vehicular emissions are becoming the bane of Chinese cities

 
Published: Saturday 30 June 2001

Air pollution: a shift in crisis

-- China, in general, is an energy-scarce country. The country's main energy source is coal, which meets 75 per cent of the demand and makes China the largest producer and consumer of coal. Yet the per capita coal reserves are less than half the world average. In the past, the government has artificially controlled the coal price so that it barely covers production costs. This hasn't promoted energy efficiency. Major coal consumers are industry, the power sector and households. Institutions including the us government and the World Bank have made loans or worked with the Chinese government to help implement clean-coal technologies in the industrial and power sectors to reduce dust emissions and acid rain. In 1999 the government closed 30,500 small, debt-ridden coalmines from January to October. This reduced output by 12 per cent as compared to 1998.

Home is hell
Sample studies show the severe participate air pollution
indoors due to burning of coal in China

Place Urban / Rural Particulates (microgrammes per cubic metre)
Shanghai Urban 500-1,000
Beijing Urban 17-1,00*
Shenyang Urban 125-270
Taiyuan Urban 300-1,000
Harbin Urban 390-610*
Guangzhou Urban 460
Chengde Urban 270-700*
Yunnan Rural 270-5,100
Beijing Rural 400-1,300
Jilin Rural 1,000-1,200*
Hebei Rural 1,900-2,500
Inner Mongolia Rural 400-1,600*

* -Particles less than 10 microns in size

"Pollution is one factor making chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- emphysema and chronic bronchitis -- the leading cause of death in China, with a mortality rate five times greater than the us ," says Clear Water, Blue Skies: China's Environment in the New Century , a summary of the environment section of the China 2020 Report of the World Bank . A study by the World Bank in 1997 had estimated that if the then rates of fossil fuel consumption remain constant, the health costs, estimated at us $43.2 billion in 1995, will rise to us $98 billion by the end of 2000. The increase includes heath costs amounting to more than 600,000 premature deaths, 5.5 million cases of chronic bronchitis, and 20 million cases of respiratory illnesses. As they grow at a rapid pace, Chinese cities are exposing their children to a variety of harmful pollutants. The issue of children's health in cities will become increasingly acute in the years to come. Children studied in Shenyang, Shanghai, and other major cities have blood-lead levels that average some 80 per cent above levels considered to be dangerous to mental development. Some 7.4 million person-work-years are lost annually to air pollution-related health impacts. Acid rain in the high sulphur coal regions of south and southwest China has the potential of damaging 10 per cent of the land area, and may have already reduced crop and forestry productivity by an average of 3 per cent.

Air pollution in China has been notoriously high for several years. Burning of coal releases sulphur dioxide ( so 2 ) and total suspended particulates ( tsp ). Emission from burning fossil fuels can result in acid rain, particularly coal emission, which can be carried hundreds of kilometres from its source and last in the atmosphere for days. Acid rain and acid deposition have detrimentally affected regions all over China, but some areas like Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Hunan provinces produce higher levels of emissions. The government is attending to this problem because it threatens to undermine China's food security. The tsp and so 2 levels in urban areas are extremely high in Chinese cities. Zhao Weijun, deputy director of nepa (now sepa ), had noted in 1997 that residents of many of China's largest cities live under long-term, harmful air quality conditions. In large cities where coal is being phased out as an indoor heating and cooking source, significant reductions have already been documented. Substituting oil and electric heating have aided in this reduction process, as has the increased use of cleaner coal briquettes. Indoor pollution in urban areas has been greatly reduced. A pipeline running from Shaanxi province to Beijing will be completed by 2002 and will supply natural gas to 46 per cent of central Beijing.

Outdated vehicles: bane of Chinese cities
Percentage of total emissions in some Chinese cities that
are attributed to motor vehicles
Air pollution in China has been notoriously high for several years. Burning of coal releases sulphur dioxide ( so 2 ) and total suspended particulates ( tsp ). Emission from burning fossil fuels can result in acid rain, particularly coal emission, which can be carried hundreds of kilometres from its source and last in the atmosphere for days. Acid rain and acid deposition have detrimentally affected regions all over China, but some areas like Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Hunan provinces produce higher levels of emissions. The government is attending to this problem because it threatens to undermine China's food security. The tsp and so 2 levels in urban areas are extremely high in Chinese cities. Zhao Weijun, deputy director of nepa (now sepa ), had noted in 1997 that residents of many of China's largest cities live under long-term, harmful air quality conditions. In large cities where coal is being phased out as an indoor heating and cooking source, significant reductions have already been documented. Substituting oil and electric heating have aided in this reduction process, as has the increased use of cleaner coal briquettes. Indoor pollution in urban areas has been greatly reduced. A pipeline running from Shaanxi province to Beijing will be completed by 2002 and will supply natural gas to 46 per cent of central Beijing.

Outdated vehicles: bane of Chinese cities
Percentage of total emissions in some Chinese cities that
are attributed to motor vehicles

Percentage attributable to motor vehicles

Carbon monoxide Hydrocarbons Nitrous oxides
Beijing 48-64 60-74 10-22
Shanghai 69 37
Shenyang 27-38 NA 45-53
Jinan 28 NA 4-6
Hangzhou 24-70 NA
Urumqi 12-50 NA
Guangzhou 70 NA 43


The media has given coverage to the ban on the use of coal for heating and cooking in households and the commercial sector. Daily reports of pollution levels can be checked in newspapers or the Internet. China might benefit greatly from the use of renewable energy systems like wind and solar energy.

Vehicular pollution
There is a clear shift in the source of air pollution in Chinese cities. While steps have been taken to control the burning of coal, the number of vehicles on the road is rising dramatically. Since 1980, the number of vehicles has been growing annually at a rate of 20 per cent in many urban areas. It is estimated that there are about 18-21 million motor vehicles in China. By 2010, this is expected to more than double to 44-50 million. This makes for a scary situation in the absence of extensive infrastructure, making urban traffic movement very slow and creating pockets of high emissions and slow traffic movement.

Vehicular emissions are now becoming the primary air pollutants in cities. Estimates show that by 2010 in Shanghai, 75 per cent of total oxides of nitrogen emissions, 94 per cent of the total carbon monoxide emissions, and 98 per cent of the total hydrocarbon emissions will be from vehicles. In 1997, the nitrogen dioxide ( NO2 ) levels in three of the largest cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, were more than twice the who guideline of 50 microgrammes per cubic metre. no 2 is critical to the formation of photochemical oxidants and other particles in the air, which form smog and ground-level ozone.

Vehicles produced domestically often lag behind international standards in design by as much as 20 years and are not subject to very effective inspection systems. They emit two to seven times more nitrous oxides and six to 12 times more carbon monoxide as compared to vehicles in industrialised countries. In Beijing, 40 per cent of autos surveyed and 70 per cent of taxis failed to meet the most basic emission standards. In Shanghai, emissions of 100,000 motor vehicles and 300,000 motorbikes were above the national permitted level.

On the fuel quality front, the government began implementing policies that require the complete phasing out of leaded petrol in the future. Until recently, leaded petrol held 40 per cent of the market share. The government has also made a move towards cleaner fuels. Many of the public buses in Beijing now run on natural gas. The State Council in 1998 introduced Euro I emission norms for all new cars by 2000. Beijing implemented the policy one year ahead of schedule. In March 1999, it was mandated that all domestically manufactured cars sold in the capital would have to be retrofitted with a kit that would enable them to meet the Euro I emission standard. This costs us $375 per vehicle. Almost 80,000 vehicles have already been retrofitted. Such steps are also influenced by Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympics. The Chinese capital isn't likely to win the bid unless it can show some improvement in air pollution.

The media has given coverage to the ban on the use of coal for heating and cooking in households and the commercial sector. Daily reports of pollution levels can be checked in newspapers or the Internet. China might benefit greatly from the use of renewable energy systems like wind and solar energy.

Vehicular pollution
There is a clear shift in the source of air pollution in Chinese cities. While steps have been taken to control the burning of coal, the number of vehicles on the road is rising dramatically. Since 1980, the number of vehicles has been growing annually at a rate of 20 per cent in many urban areas. It is estimated that there are about 18-21 million motor vehicles in China. By 2010, this is expected to more than double to 44-50 million. This makes for a scary situation in the absence of extensive infrastructure, making urban traffic movement very slow and creating pockets of high emissions and slow traffic movement.

Vehicular emissions are now becoming the primary air pollutants in cities. Estimates show that by 2010 in Shanghai, 75 per cent of total oxides of nitrogen emissions, 94 per cent of the total carbon monoxide emissions, and 98 per cent of the total hydrocarbon emissions will be from vehicles. In 1997, the nitrogen dioxide ( NO2 ) levels in three of the largest cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, were more than twice the who guideline of 50 microgrammes per cubic metre. no 2 is critical to the formation of photochemical oxidants and other particles in the air, which form smog and ground-level ozone.

Vehicles produced domestically often lag behind international standards in design by as much as 20 years and are not subject to very effective inspection systems. They emit two to seven times more nitrous oxides and six to 12 times more carbon monoxide as compared to vehicles in industrialised countries. In Beijing, 40 per cent of autos surveyed and 70 per cent of taxis failed to meet the most basic emission standards. In Shanghai, emissions of 100,000 motor vehicles and 300,000 motorbikes were above the national permitted level.

On the fuel quality front, the government began implementing policies that require the complete phasing out of leaded petrol in the future. Until recently, leaded petrol held 40 per cent of the market share. The government has also made a move towards cleaner fuels. Many of the public buses in Beijing now run on natural gas. The State Council in 1998 introduced Euro I emission norms for all new cars by 2000. Beijing implemented the policy one year ahead of schedule. In March 1999, it was mandated that all domestically manufactured cars sold in the capital would have to be retrofitted with a kit that would enable them to meet the Euro I emission standard. This costs us $375 per vehicle. Almost 80,000 vehicles have already been retrofitted. Such steps are also influenced by Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympics. The Chinese capital isn't likely to win the bid unless it can show some improvement in air pollution.

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