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Monday, January 12, 2015, 09:34

Strict controls help clear the air

By Zheng Jinran
Strict controls help clear the air

A cement factory is demolished by blasting in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, in February. Eighteen cement production lines were destroyed in the campaign that was aimed to reduce redundant cement production capacity. (Zhao Wei / for China Daily)

Strict controls help clear the air

More cities have been turning to tough measures to rein in pollution in line with a national drive for sustainable development.

On Dec 29, authorities in Shenzhen announced imminent restrictions on vehicle purchases, sparking a rush among residents to buy cars just hours before the cap took effect.

With the move, the southern metropolis in Guangdong province joined other major cities that took tough measures last year to limit vehicle emissions amid a national campaign to reduce air pollution.

Environmental specialists and observers say China's strict controls on industrial polluters and other emitters have recorded impressive achievements in its green drive, but there is a long way to go before pollution reduction targets can be met.

Shenzhen's new restrictions cut its annual vehicle quota to 100,000 units. By September, there were more than 3 million vehicles in the city.

Over the past decade, cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have applied similar policies to rein in the rapid increase in the number of vehicles on their roads.

The National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planner, has released plans to pro-mote the use of new energy vehicles and phase out models with high emissions in key are-as such as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei zone this year, and to expand the measures nation-wide by 2017.

More than 6.11 million vehicles across the country that do not meet green emission standards had been taken off the roads by the end of November, surpassing the year's goal of 6 million, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.

These efforts to reduce vehicle emissions took center stage in 2014, when vehicles were highlighted as a major source of the pollutant PM2.5-air-borne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that can penetrate the lungs to seriously harm health-in cities such as Beijing, where 31.1 percent of airborne pollutants come from vehicle exhaust.

The capital is also considering making the odd-even license plate traffic restriction, which was implemented during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings, a permanent restriction.

During the event, from Nov 3 to 12, air quality was mostly maintained at healthy levels in Beijing.

The average concentration of PM2.5 during the period was reduced by 61.6 percent because of measures that included the suspension of work at construction sites and polluting companies in the Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin region.

"The measures to rein in vehicle exhaust made up 39.5 percent of the reduction of PM2.5 emissions and proved that our controls were effective," said Fang Li, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

Regional cooperation among Beijing and surrounding areas was a major reason the green objectives were met, he said.

Measures to control air pollution should be part of the improved mode of economic development, and the government should upgrade the economy with environmental protection in mind, said Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian.

China lowered its annual GDP growth forecast to 7.5 percent at the beginning of 2014, and priority was given to upgrading the economy in line with high-quality growth and clear goals to reduce pollution.

Last year, many cities adopted plans to restructure and control the growth of polluting companies.

Beijing closed 392 polluting companies in 2014 and plans to close 300 more polluters this year. The government also plans to promote advanced technologies for companies to cap emissions and upgrade their products and services.

Hebei, where heavy industries are a major contributor to economic growth, has required core yet polluting industries such as the iron, steel and cement sectors to slow down by closing some plants and setting emissions caps.

With such deep cuts to industrial production, the central government has allocated funds-as much as 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) last year to encourage more initiatives from local governments to optimize their economy for "green GDP".

However, experts have expressed concern over the country's capability to meet its target for improving air pollution.

The current measures might not help the Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin region lower their concentration of PM2.5 as planned, according to a report released in September by Tsinghua University and the Clean Air Alliance of China.

"More stringent measures should be implemented, and the joint efforts in the region can be strengthened to promote the reduction of emissions," said He Kebin, a professor of environmental science at Tsinghua University.

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