China's anti-smog drive

Added On March 11, 2014

In China, this winter has seen more and more cities choked in smog, sounding alarm over the environmental issue brought by the three decades of rapid growth.
Environmental issues have become a big concern for the Chinese public. And are high on the agenda of China's on-going parliamentary and political advisory sessions.
Since early this year, China has been under growing pressure to address the causes of air pollution after heavy smog affected more than 1 million square kilometers in east China.
SOUNDBITE(CHINESE): Beijing resident 
"The week-long smog was a huge inconvenience for us, as the poor air forced me to stay indoor if unnecessary."
SOUNDBITE(CHINESE): Langfang resident 
"I've begun to wear a mask recently due to the poor air quality. Yes, the smog has influenced my daily life, as the polluted air may damage our respiration systems."
SOUNDBITE(CHINESE): Henan resident 
"I think the haze smells like smoke, and it hurts my throat."
SOUNDBITE(CHINESE): Langfang resident 
"The heavy smog here has cuased lots of crashes. It's dangerous for us to ride motorbikes here for we cannot see clearly what's one or two hundred meters ahead."
SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): GIBBY,  Beijing resident 
"It's particularly uncomfortable. I've got a bit of a sore throat now. I'm coughing a little more than I have done before. You can almost taste the smog when you go outside."
Official data show that 2013 had the most smoggy days of any year in the past 52 years.
Since the beginning of December, at least 25 regions and provinces have reported high pollution levels, particularly of PM2.5, which are tiny floating particles measuring 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter.
PM2.5 particles are especially hazardous as they can settle in lungs and cause respiratory problems among other illnesses.
In Beijing, only five days were free of hazardous weather in January, with repeatedly higher-than-normal readings of PM2.5.
Most recently, a thick blanket of haze covered Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei Province from February 20 to 26.
China's top decision makers say they're aware of the enormous problem and a new way must be found out to properly balance the economic growth and environmental protection.
Actions to tackle air pollution are top concerns of many lawmakers and political advisors who are convening in Beijing.
SOUNDBITE (CHINESE) ZHANG LIKUN, Deputy, Beijng Municipal People's Congress:
"During the session, we've discussed extensively a limit on car purchases, traffic controls and relocation of pollutant enterprises. I think the regulations represent the wishes of both the people at the grassroots and experts."
SOUNDBITE (CHINESE) PAN SHIYI, Deputy, Beijng Municipal People's Congress:
"The air is different from the land. Land has its city or province boundaries, but the air does not. Beijing has taken the lead in issuing these rules. I hope a nationwide law will be issued soon. This is the solution to air pollution."
"Pollution is the price we pay for economy progress. London and Los Angles also had similar problem before. When they had air pollution, the two cities did not pay enough attention to solve this problem, but were busy making money. Later, they found that the money they had made was not enough to fix the environment."
In response, the government has been on the move.
A 284-billion-U.S.-dollar plan was sanctioned by the Chinese government last September to tackle the worsening air quality.
It's aimed at improving air quality within five years, decreasing the number of days of heavy pollution and improving air quality in major city clusters.
The government wants to cut the density of inhalable particles by at least 10 percent in major cities nationwide by 2017.
A document issued by the State Council last August set the goal to raise the total output value of environmental protection industries to 732 billion dollars by 2015, or on average a 15-percent yearly increase.
In the document, the State Council also vows to spur technological innovation, increase consumption demand for green and energy saving products, and boost the services industry related to environmental protection.
Poor air quality in large swathes of China, particularly in Beijing, is making international headlines.
But China is not the only country that has been plagued by such problems.
It is a problem that big cities in industrialized countries repeatedly ran into for decades.
In the process of global industrialization, Los Angeles of the United States, London of Britain, and the Ruhr industrial area in Germany all suffered from severe air pollution in last century.
British capital of London had been notorious for its severe air-pollution, which peaked in 1952 during the weeks-long Great Smog event, the worst air-pollution in the history of the United Kingdom.
According to government medical reports, the lasting smog killed 4,000 people and sickened 100,000 more.
More recent research suggests that the total number of fatalities was considerably greater, at about 12,000.
The event finally led to the enaction of the Clean Air Act 1956, a milestone in the development of a legal framework to protect the environment.
The Act introduced "smoke control areas" in some towns and cities in which only smokeless fuels could be burnt. 
It also shifted  homes' sources of heat towards cleaner energies, such as electricity and gas.
SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): SIMON MOORE, Policy Exchange think tank senior research fellow
"Governments tackled the smoke problem primarily because they have very little choice, the problem was very obvious to all of the public. It was causing serious problems with health, with transport, people couldn't see where they were going, with industries workers were often sick all the time. So it was very difficult for day to day running of the city to carry on. They tackled it in a number of different ways. They passed several pieces of legislation, but the main aims of rules were warn to vastly reduced the amount of burning the city both in people's homes and by industrial users. They promoted using gas for householder heating and for householder cooking rather than coal and try to encourage lots of industries to move outside of the city to rural as well."
Thanks to the law, London's air has been improved a lot since then.
Battersea, an inner-city district of south London noted for concentrated industries, had been associated with pollution.
"Behind me you will find the 'retired' Battersea coal-fired power station, burning up to 10,000 tons a week, and the largest power station in the UK."
Nowadays, one can hardly associates the district with pollution if the remains of the obsolete Battersea Power Station are not spotted.
Clean Air Act 1956 played a key role in the change, as burning coal gradually faded away from the country since it took effect.
By 1975, the number of smoggy days in London fell from dozens of days a year to 15 days, then, eventually to just five days a year by 1980.
"Yet the story's not at an end. From the start of the 1980s there's was an increase in the number of cars, which would come to replace coal as the major source of pollution in the UK."
Like all big European cities, London has problems with nitrogen dioxide pollution and airborne particles of PM10 and PM2.5 from traffic.
To cope with the new problems, Londoners have come up with new ideas and technologies.
SOUNDIBTE(ENGLISH): GARY FULLER, Professor, King's College London
"London has been doing a very large experiment of applying dust suppressants to roads, a chemical called calcium magnesium acetate. It has been sprayed on roads. And, if you like, it just makes them a little more sticky. It just means that some of the pollutants stick to the roads rather than being suspended in the air."
Particle filters have also been attached to the exhausts of buses to reduce emissions.
SOUNDIBTE(ENGLISH): GARY FULLER, Professor, King's College London
"Tests that have been done by Transport for London on their buses indicate that fitting particle traps to buses can be very effective. Also the mayor is very committed to hybrid buses. These are buses with a combination of diesel engines and battery power so that when a bus stops at a bus stop the engine cuts out and when the bus moves a short distance it can do it on electric power and this is charged by the diesel engine. Because the diesel engine is off for some of the time, this can also, in combination with particle filters be quite an effective way of controlling air pollution from buses."
In addition, the European Union requires its member states to have no more than 35 polluted days, or else face huge fines. 
However, pollution in mega cities including London is so complex that all spheres could be involved.
As an economic tool, a "congestion charge" on each private vehicle entering the city was introduced in London.
"Today, the London congestion charge for large cars rose to 10 pounds a day, equal to 100 yuan a day. By law, all of the money goes directly into improving London’s transportation system. While there have been complaints about the charge, the facts show traffic congestion in the toll area decreased by 30 percent. Over the next 20 years, London plans to decrease private car traffic by nine percent. Imposing a "congestion charge" is mainly used to improve the development of the public transport system."
The city also has a long-term project to develop public transport and reduce pollution from vehicles.
SOUNDIBTE(ENGLISH): MURAD QURESHI, Health and environment committee London Assembly
"Well, I can certainly say in London most of us are expected to, and encouraged, to use public transport. I do not think many of us think too much about using black limousines because we just do not have them."
For Qureshi, London made a few mistakes in the past. It's important not to repeat them. More importantly, he believes big cities should plan ahead to cope with increasing demands.
SOUNDIBTE(ENGLISH): MURAD QURESHI, Chair of health and environment committee London Assembly
"I think the lesson there is that you do not wait for it to get so bad you do it then. It is much better to put things in place beforehand and cope with the population demand on your city, and I am sure that is probably what is happening in China right now given the vast movement of people to cities."
What London underwent in the past has proved that fixing environment usually costs much more than the earnings from destroying it.
SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): SIMON MOORE, Policy Exchange think tank senior research fellow
"I think the main thing that is important for the Chinese government to recognize is that inaction also has an expense. The impact of air-pollution related heath problems puts a huge drain on the country's healthcare systems. That is one of the main ways in which the economic costs of air-pollution are felt. So that cost of inaction has to be weighed against what is gonna cost to take some of the measures that help to address the problems."