Monday, February 11, 2013

Smog Pollution Mutes Chinese New Year Celebrations

The Chinese Lunar New Year is usually celebrated with a barrage of fireworks, but this year due to serious smog pollution problems, Beijing has been forced to scale back celebrations. In the Chinese capital there were 23 days of record breaking smog in January, which is twice the recent average.

Last year's pyrotechnical display sent 2.5 microgram pollution levels as high as 1,500 parts per milion in Beijing. This year the reduction of fireworks appears to have had a significant impact as Sunday's readings showed levels around 200 which is well below the readings of more than 700 that were seen last month.

The Lunar New Year's eve celebrations on Saturday February 9th started later than usual and they were shorter in duration. Fireworks are intended to scare away evil spirits but it seems that the Chinese have decided that reducing smog is more important that warding off evil spirits.

The smog was so bad in Beijing in January that schools canceled outdoor activities. The smog also caused a large number of respiratory problems, elevated blood pressure and heart complaints. This prompted the government in Beijing to shut down 103 heavily polluting factories and take almost a third of government vehicles off roads.

In addition to closing factories, and taking cars off the road, China is taking more serious long term action. Because car emissions are one of the major contributors to smog, China is putting a new gas standard in place that caps sulfur content.  This will take effect at the end of the year, with a grace period extending to the end of 2017.

As part of a drive to cut energy consumption by 300 million tonnes of coal,  in August 2012, China announced that it is planning to invest $372 billion into energy conservation projects and anti-pollution measures over the next three-and-a-half years. The government has earmarked almost half of that amount ($155 billion) for projects that reduce energy consumption.

China is already almost halfway to meeting its target of cutting energy intensity 16 percent below 2010 levels by 2015. They have also targeted a 21 percent energy intensity reduction for industry.

The State Council plan said steel producers must reduce their energy use per unit of production by a 25 percent over the five years, coal-fired power plants by 8 percent and cement manufacturers by 3 percent. Seven Chinese cities and provinces will also launch CO2 emissions trading schemes over the next two years ahead of a national scheme set to commence later in the decade

However more will need to be done to curb the soaring fossil fuel consumption that is powering China's prodigious economic growth. At present China is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) However, the nation plans to cut its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

To achieve these goals China has phased out thousands of old, inefficient factories and fossil fuel-fired power plants while becoming the world's biggest producer of renewable energy.

Despite these efforts China's GHG emissions continue to rise. In 2011 China's carbon output grew by 800 million tonnes to 9.7 billion tonnes, or 29 percent of the world's total CO2 emissions. These levels of emissions are expected to keep rising until 2030.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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