China has a long reputation of a country severely plagued by air pollution. In 2013 China registered its worst record on air pollution; Beijing is considered the second most polluted city in the world.
The air pollution has been the consequence of two decades of super-rapid economic growth without the government addressing its negative by-effects on air and water quality. All eyes were fixed on growth, ignoring its devastating impact on the quality of life.
Rapid growth was not possible without fast increase of power generation, cement and glass production, all responsible for high air pollution and C02 emissions.
China has,of course, introduced environmental legislation ;but without imposing the appropriate technical standards against dust particles, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide, and attaching effective enforcement mechanisms and severe penalties for infringement.
This will change if the National Peoples` Congress is serious in implementing the stern pledges of its chairman, Zhang Dejiang, at its session in early March, after the Chinese Prime Minister had “declared the war” on pollution a few days earlier. The smog spell in February affecting 15 per cent of the country and provoking more and more complaints from the urban population has no doubt added urgency to the issue.
We should therefore normally expect serious actions to be taken starting in 2014.
Among these should be the strengthening of existing legislation on air pollution, including stricter supervision and harsher punishment.
But this will not suffice. The government will have to address the two main sources of air pollution: coal-fired power generation and car traffic in big cities.
New coal-fired power plants and cement factories must become subject to more stringent emission standards for dust, sulfur dioxide and C02. Only low- emission cars must be be allowed for registration; and their numbers should be reduced in big cities in favour of more metro, trams and buses.
The seriousness of these measures will reflect the willingness of the Chinese elite to effectively tackle climate change. We should not expect much from China for the 2015 Climate Conference if it proves unable to start seriously eradicating the most visible forms of pollution with their devastating health impact on the urban population.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 12/3/2014Author : Eberhard Rhein