Liu Bingjiang: China becomes world's fastest country in tackling air pollution

By Li Bingjiang Updated: 2022-07-08 en.cppcc.gov.cn

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Liu Bingjiang is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and head of the Department of Atmospheric Environment,  Ministry of Ecology and Environment. [Photo/cppcc.gov.cn]

At the beginning of 2013, China witnessed smog in large areas, with severe air pollution for 25 consecutive days and the air quality index being "off the charts" in many localities.

In response to the grave environmental pollution, the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan (known as the "Ten Air Regulations" for short)  was deliberated and adopted at a meeting of  the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and an executive meeting of the State Council, which embarked China on an extraordinary journey to comprehensively combat PM2.5, a major pollutant, the first developing country in the world ever to do so.  

From 2013 to 2021, the emissions of sulfur dioxide and oxynitride decreased from more than 20 million tons to only a few million tons. The annual average concentration of PM2.5 decreased by 56 percent. The figure of Beijing decreased to 33 micrograms per cubic meter, reaching the national standard for the first time. The number of days with heavy pollution decreased by 91 percent. The United Nations Environment Programme hailed Beijing's improvements as the "Beijing miracle".

Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core has highlighted the construction of an ecological civilization in the country's governance, and carried out measures with unprecedented effectiveness and strength. Against that background, we have achieved a series of historic transformations in air pollution prevention and control, solved long-pending issues and achieved many results that we had failed before.

1. Ice-breaking: Clean energy replaced bulk coal

The air pollutants emitted per ton of coal for heating in rural areas of northern China were 20 times that of coal-fired power plants. Infrastructure in rural areas, such as the gas pipeline network and power grid capacity, was weak. Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, attached great importance to the issue of clean energy heating in northern China and personally deployed and facilitated actions to increase the proportion of clean energy in the heating supply, requiring efforts in this regard to be combined with work on smog control. Government departments jointly formulated and issued the Northern Area Winter Clean Energy Heating Plan, and concentrated on replacing bulk coal with gas pipelines in the heat supply to the capital, coordinated with the Ministry of Finance to innovate mechanisms to leverage the special central fund for air pollution prevention and control to tackle the problem. Over 27 million rural households were out of the old smoky ways of energy provision, which significantly improved their quality of life and happiness.

2. Broke the development pattern of 'local balance of energy'

The coal consumption pattern was transformed from coal supply as the mainstay to both coal and power supplied simultaneously. In 2017, 12 long-distance trans-regional power transmission lines were built and put into operation, reducing coal supply to key areas by 250 million tons. The newly revised Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law required coal use cannot be expanded in building, rebuilding or expanding projects in the country's key atmospheric pollution prevention and control areas. From 2013 to 2021, 64.5 percent of the increase in national energy consumption came from clean energy, while coal consumption growth remained at zero. Meanwhile, the energy-saving and ultra-low emission transformation of coal-fired electricity generation units was completed nationwide, creating the largest clean coal-fired power generation base in the world.

3. Adjusted the industrial structure with unprecedented intensity

The CPC Central Committee decided to promote supply-side structural reform in 2015, when the State Council issued comprehensive economic policies to guide the adjustment of industrial structures and the transformation of the development mode, releasing dividends of substantial reduction of pollutants in the industrial sector. A total of 300 million tons of steel and 1 billion tons of coal were resolved accumulatively nationwide as outdated or excessive production capacity. A further 140 million tons of steel of inferior quality were eliminated. We focused our work in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and its surrounding areas, where the number of steel enterprises was cut in half, and the production capacity of steel in Hebei province decreased by one third. Since the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region witnessed a smog lasting for nine days in a row in 2017,  localities have been urged to rectify 62,000 poorly managed  and polluting enterprises and clusters.

4. Strongly propelled the green transformation in transportation sector

In 2017, China's top environmental watchdog, together with other departments, moved to stop the ports around Bohai Sea from receiving coal transported by roads and shifted to railway transportation instead, kickstarting the "road-to-rail" scheme. The country launched a three-year action plan on pushing transportation structural upgrade, which kicked off the construction of special railway lines for enterprises. The proportion of national railway freight volume has increased for four consecutive years. The country has upgraded its vehicle emission standard from national IV to VI, and gas quality has achieved a three-level leap from national level four to level six, on par with international standards. The country also promoted the electrification of motor vehicles in the public sector. The proportion of electric buses in all buses in the country has increased by 70 percent, and a total of 30 million outmoded motor vehicles have been eliminated.

5. Addressed persistent management problems in multiple fields with an iron fist

China has the largest in scale and most in number of construction sites in the world, with construction dust and muck prevalent as a result. Over 20 billion tons of sand and gravel aggregate are mined, processed and transported every year, causing flying dust. Pollution in areas such as the open stacking of construction materials and from manual dry sweeping was heavy. Burning-related pollution, such as burning wasteland in spring, open-air barbecues in summer, straw-burning in autumn, bulk coal burning in winter, and garbage burning all year round, was prominent. Through a set of measures, including the setup of monitoring stations, video  monitoring and ranking dust reduction, the respective responsibilities of all parties were clarified and consolidated, significantly reducing the amount of dust.

6. Resolved pollution caused by long-distance trans-regional transmission

Persistent hazy weather is least satisfying among the public. A research campaign involving over 2,000 specialists was launched  to figure out the scientific law of the causes, transmission and dissipation of air pollution. The environment authorities worked with the China Meteorological Administration to develop a national-level forecast model to better guarantee accurate responses to air pollution. Joint prevention, control and treatment of air pollution were implemented in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and its surrounding areas, the environmental protection performance of all emission sources was graded one by one, and differentiated emission reduction measures were carried out. An integrated monitoring system of air and earth was built, which has ensured that response measures for heavy pollution are in place.

The achievements were hard-earned. The country will stand steadfast in implementing Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization, and further promote pollution control that is accurate, scientific and law-based. The environment authorities will take the coordinated control of both PM2.5 and ozone as the mainstay, intensify collaborative control on multi-pollutants and regional collaboration, continue the fight for blue skies and propel high-quality development for a higher quality of life.

(The author is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and head of the Department of Atmospheric Environment, Ministry of Ecology and Environment.)


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