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Beijing's battle for clean air in 2013


Fighting against PM2.5

Beijing achieved significant progress in battling air pollution last year. It was the first city to follow the new standards of national air quality, PM2.5 standards, which replaced the previous PM10 standards.

The capital city implemented the Clean Air Action Plan (2013-2017), which contained 84 major projects last year. The plan was made in line with the country's Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan issued by the State Council in September 2013. Beijing held a mobilization meeting for atmospheric pollution control on Sept 17, calling on local government departments, districts and counties to carry out their own action plan for air pollution control.

"The government has determined to win the tough battle against air pollution," said Fang Li, deputy head of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.



 Controlling haze with strict regulations

Beijing established tight regulations to curb air pollution in 2013. A regulation on air pollution control, made by the Municipal People's Congress, warned of severe punishments for violation of the rules.

"The regulation has set up a legal system for air pollution control, especially haze control in Beijing," said Wang Canfa, a professor from China University of Political Science and Law.



Releasing real-time PM2.5 data

Beijing built a citywide network of 35 PM2.5 monitoring stations in 2013, including 23 environment assessment stations, five traffic pollution monitoring stations and six regional background monitoring stations. Citizens can check data updates of PM2.5 and other air contaminants through the Internet, mobile phones and microblogs.

"Beijing did a good job in updating air quality data. Its performance ranked first among 113 cities in the country in 2013," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

"Air quality information, like weather forecasts, have become a matter of concern for the public every day," Ma added.


 Taking the lead in establishing standards

The capital has a total of 34 environmental protection standards for air pollution control, nine of them were released in 2013, including new emission standards and a revised standard for cleaner coal and related coal products. Some limits for pollutant discharges have reached international advanced levels.

The Limits and Measurement Methods for Emissions from Light-Duty Vehicles (Beijing Stage V) was released in January and implemented on Feb 2, 2013. The new standard is stricter than the China IV Stage Vehicle Exhaust Emission Standard. More emission standards will be proposed to improve air quality in the future.



Guiding with economic tools

Beijing has developed an environmental economic policy system with 40 policies utilizing price, tax, finance and fiscal subsidies.

To follow the Clean Air Action Plan, the city's departments established 16 new policies in 2013, including an adjusted charging policy for four major pollutants, a green credit policy and a preferential tax policy.

"Beijing has taken lots of economic measures and achieved good results. I believe that more economic policies for air pollution control should be introduced," said Song Guojun, an environmental science professor at Renmin University of China.



Cutting coal consumption

Beijing pledged to reduce the city's coal consumption by 13 million tons by 2017 in an effort to control air pollution.

The capital replaced 215 coal-fired boilers with clean energy in 2013. A total of 4,000 families had their coal stoves replaced with electric heating equipment. A total of 1,200 coal stoves were replaced with natural gas. In addition 300,000 pots of liquefied petroleum gas were sent to rural areas, and 288 polluting factories were shut down.

With those measures, the city slashed coal consumption by 1.3 million tons, SO2 emissions by 5,763 tons, and smoke and dust emissions by 6,017 tons last year.



Reducing old vehicles

The city restricted the use of high-polluting vehicles after the Beijing V emission standards were implemented last year. A total of 366,000 old cars were scrapped with government subsidies totaling 805 million yuan ($133.03 million). The efforts are expected to reduce 128,000 tons of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter each year.

The city will further tighten regulations of vehicle emissions and strengthen regulatory policies. Meanwhile, it will promote public transport and clean energy vehicles.



Setting a contingency plan

Beijing released the revised Heavy Air Pollution Contingency Plan in October 2013. The plan was incorporated into the unified management of the municipal emergency response system.

It set up four alert levels: blue, yellow, orange and red. When there is heavy pollution for one day, the blue alert will be issued; severe pollution for one day or heavy pollution for three consecutive days, yellow; alternating heavy and severe pollution for three consecutive days, orange; and severe pollution for three consecutive days, red.

"When the red alert is issued, schools have to stop classes, cars have to stop running, and companies will be forced to halt," said Yan Jingjun, deputy director of the Ministry of Environmental Protection's Environmental Emergency Center.



Cooperating with surrounding areas

It is necessary for most heavily polluted regions -- including the geographic cluster of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province; the Yangtze River Delta region; and the Pearl River Delta region -- to prevent and control air pollution through joint efforts.

Beijing and its surrounding areas had a working conference on air pollution prevention and control on Sept 18, 2013. The meeting proposed a coordination mechanism for sharing responsibility and information, negotiating and working together.

"System, mechanism and methods are key elements for joint prevention and control of air pollution. Heavily polluted regions with common problems will achieve great progress through cooperation," said Chai Fahe, vice-president of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.


Working together

The government, enterprises, public figures, ordinary citizens, news media and environmental charity organizations carried out a campaign for clean air together in 2013.

The departments organized a group of environmental protection activities. In response, more than 170 enterprises took action to reduce emissions. The clean air issue became a hot topic among citizens. The official microblog of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau was visited 300 million times last year.

Beijing will set up a volunteer association for environmental protection in 2014, aiming to connect public service organizations with volunteers. The association has attracted 120 members -- 70 individual members and 50 unit members.




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