After having made remarkable headway in improving its air quality on a year-on-year basis, Beijing is now at the point where further progress will be difficult, said.
"It has become very difficult for Beijing to add more blue-sky days. Nevertheless, emissions must be within the national standard during the 2008 Beijing Olympics," Shi Hanmin, director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, told Beijing Public Service Media on Sunday.
Last year, the city recorded 241 blue-sky days, seven more than in 2005 and 141 more than in 1998.
"Around 2000, the number of blue-sky days increased by about 5 percentage points per year. However, the rate has slowed to just 1 or 2 percent in recent years," Shi said.
"The decline of the growth rate suggests that we have finished doing all the easy tasks, leaving just the deeper, more fundamental ones."
The official also warned that Beijing would probably suffer severe sandstorms this spring.
"The warm weather and decreased rainfall since last winter have further loosened up the sand and earth, which will easily lead to sandy weather once the wind kicks up," said Shi.
He said Beijing had developed a contingency plan for dealing with serious windy and sandy weather, including increased street sweeping and the cancellation of projects requiring digging.
Beijing was hit by 17 sandstorms last year, representing a low point for air quality.
Though Shi conceded that the city had few proposed solutions to its fundamental air-quality problems and insufficient power to enforce measures, he said his bureau would still push for 245 blue-sky days this year.
This year Beijing will focus on reducing low-altitude pollution by using clean energy to replace 1,100 coal-fired boilers with capacities of 20 tons each and preparatory work to implement the Euro-IV emissions standards for new vehicles by next year.
The Euro-IV standards are guidelines set by the European Union for reducing roadside emissions like nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.
"Coal-burning boilers and stoves are still the No 1 killer of air quality, producing one fifth of all the pollutants we inhale and a half of the overall sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions," Shi said.
The widespread use of small coal-burning stoves during the winter contributes to the capital's poor air quality. Officials estimate that there are 700,000 such stoves in the city.
To reverse the damage caused by small coal-burning stoves, the city has operated a coal-to-electricity pilot program over the past two years involving 10,000 homes in central Beijing.
"Air-monitoring stations have reported encouraging results. This year we will extend the program to more than 110,000 homes," said the official.
The city will also decommission 2,580 heavily polluting buses and look into open-air barbecues and smoke discharge from restaurants.
(China Daily January 23, 2007)