Smog-free China: Gov't showing mettle to win against all odds

By Yasir Habib Khan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail CRI, February 7, 2017
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Does anti-smog war in China have a silver lining? This is the biggest question hovering into the minds of every Chinese and even people living in different parts of the world.

If analyzed with various perspectives figuring out rational logics and magnitude of pragmatic efforts to take the space back encroached by smog (a toxic air pollutant posing health hazards), answer is quite affirmative.

No wonder smog has topped in the list of stressful worries for China. Everyone seems nervy on creeping hazy wrap. Cities especially Beijing and 21 others like Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan and Zhengzhou across north and central China wear thick sheet of smog. Mask-wearing people are spotted everywhere. Various alerts (red, yellow and orange) among 4-tiers of warning system are enough to give sleepless nights in winter. Educational institutions, for some days, are shut down. Moratorium is often imposed on numbers of cars plying on roads. Those violating environmental standards face heavy fines. Even plug is pulled from some coal-fired industries. Undoubtedly, smog crises run high setting livewire tension soaring with every passing day.

However, on the flip side, scenario is very upbeat. In order to take sting out of smog pollution, government has rolled out practical initiative with full throttle. Restructuring of coal power, one of the leading contributors in contaminating air quality and blackening cities with smog, is now positioned among main priorities laid down in 13th five year plan (2016 to 2020).a blueprint for China's economic and social development approved by the 12th National People Congress (NPC) to keep innovating green development and meeting other tangible growth targets.

Reacting sensibly, government has chalked out a plan to cut coal consumption up to 60 percent during the current year. Nur Bekri, director of National Energy Administration (NEA), revealed in a national energy work conference that efforts are in full swing to switch from fossil fuel (coal power) to non-fossil fuel (renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro and nuclear). "China plans to foster clean energy and emission reductions at all costs," he added

Premier Li Keqiang's landmark speech also set the mood to wriggle out of smog crises when he hinted at controlling factory emissions of tiny detrimental Particulate Matter (PM2.5) – a major source of smog pollution – to 25 percent. The height of seriousness is easily gauged with fact that it is first time in the history of China that a specific PM2.5 target has been incorporated in a FYP.

According to NEA report, China is all set to reinvest 2.5 trillion yuan ($361 billion) into renewable power generation by 2020 in a bid to shift power consumption culture from coal energy to renewable energy.

"Installed capacity of non-fossil fuel takes up 36.1 percent of China's total installed capacity. World's biggest energy user set the target to ramp up the ratio of non-fossil fuel consumption to 14.3 percent and that of natural gas consumption to 6.8 percent by the end of year," report said.

Since plans are up and running to provide smog-free environment to people, china has been expanding its infrastructure of wind power, one of the best means of renewable energy. China has been building two wind turbines every hour, the International Energy Agency (IEA) disclosed. This is the world's biggest programme of turbine installation, double that of the US.

The Global Wind Report published by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) said that wind is leading the transformation of the global power system, long overdue and very essential to meet the climate objectives agreed by 186 nations in Paris 2015. It appreciated China for announcing install more than 100 GW of wind energy capacity by 2020 and that renewable energy will supply 40 percent of the energy market by 2050.

In another unprecedented development to limit greenhouse gas emission triggering heavy clouds of smog, solar energy programmes have picked up momentum. In recent years, plan is in place to achieve more than triple solar power capacity by 2020 to as much as 143 gigawatts to help reduce carbon emissions. China generated 43 gigawatts of solar panels last year, equal to 70 percent of global output, Liang Zhipeng, deputy director at the renewable energy division of the National Energy Administration, said in a media talk.

Following other cities, finally Beijing has also marked officially smog as "Metrological disaster" showcasing its intensity in fight against the pollutant. According to the World Health Organization, yearly averages of PM2.5 levels should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic meter. However the Chinese government terms annual average PM2.5 level of 35 micrograms per cubic meter as normal. In its 13th Five-Year Plan, which kicked off in 2016, the government has vowed to reduce levels by 18 percent by 2020.

It is matter of satisfaction that Beijing plans to install air purification equipment in schools and kindergartens, said by Beijing Municipal Education Commission. Meanwhile annual average density of PM 2.5 to around 60 micrograms will be achieved during current year in the Capital, Lu Yan, head of the Beijing Municipal Reform and Development Commission said. 20 million Beijingers are also likely to witness environmental police to punish violators of regulations to curb pollution.

As part of its war on pollution, China's government has revised environmental laws to make them more effective and efficient. It is described as China's toughest ever because of massive fines and sharper jaws of courts. According to reports, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has slapped heavy fines to more than 500 Chinese companies and around 10,000 car-owners for environmental related violations. More than 2,682 officials have been brought to book due to their negligence in enforcing anti-pollution law.

Wang Shuxiao, an environmental science professor with Tsinghua University, is of the view that public have to be more patient with anti-smog steps taken by government. China may win the war against smog problem only if the whole of society put the act together to reduce the emission of air pollutants, Wang said.

Setting aside China, lethality of smog has been taking heavy tolls on Pakistan and other neighbouring countries. Punjab (thickly populated and urbanized province of Pakistan) particularly its eastern side bordering stretch to India, which is den of coal-charged industries, is hotbed of deadly pollutants. Loose check on factory emission and ever-increasing density of car in urban sprawl, is adding fuel to fire.

In countering smog spillover, China is truly a best example to follow by Pakistan, said by Dr. Javed Iqbal, former Director General of Environment department and Phd in Environmental sciences. "Pakistan has to declare war against the pollution seeking inspiration to China, time-tested friend, as latter has never dragged its feet when it comes to help out Pakistan from any problem."

"Lahore (capital of Punjab), along with New Delhi (important city of India), has recently been listed amongst the top 10 worst cities for Smog Meanwhile India's next most polluted city, coal and industry-heavy Chandrapur, sees air quality level at 824, according to the World Air Quality Index.

Eco-green society of Pakistan head Dr. Naveed Akhtar valuing China short term and long term policies of renewable energy, has proposed Sharif administration to ask China in making Pakistan's first ever policy against smog

There is dire need of hour, he says, to amend environmental laws with strict enforcement by government of Pakistan in lines with the Chinese footsteps to deal with smothering climatic challenges

In an effort to fight against poisonous pollutants through launching renewable energy projects, China has already been collaborating with Pakistan. Under CPEC, Quaid-e-Azam solar power park equipped with 400,000 solar panels in Cholistan, one of famous desert of Pakistan, will displace about 57,500 tonnes of coal burn and reducing emissions by 90,750 tonnes every year. Similarly wind power and hydro power projects are on an anvil.

Pakistan high-ups desperately need to put its head together with their Chinese counterparts to garner the similar spirit as shown by Beijing and other cities and take advantage of recent measures and policies to minimize the smog severity.

Former federal minister for Climate Change, Pakistan Mushahid Ullah Khan also vows to improve environment capitalizing rich experience of China in the field.

(The author is a senior investigative journalist working for The News International, Daily Times, Pakistan Today and Centerline Magazine in Pakistan.)

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