China counts on sternest vehicle emission regulation to cut air pollution

Gridlock during a smoggy day in Beijing. Photo: AFP

Wearing a mask, 52-year-old Wang Jun went to work by bus every day, it was a 15-kilometer journey from his home at Beijing’s  Shijingshan district in the western suburb to his company in Xuanwu district in the center of the capital city.

“My mask is my only and best weapon against the everyday air catastrophe in Beijing, no other way out”, Wang said, “Beijing is my hometown and it used to have the best air when I was young, but now the air might be the worst on earth, the air is so stinky and suffocating”.

Nowadays air pollution was always an everyday topic for Wang Jun and his colleagues as well as for some 20 million people living and working in the city.

Decades of urban expansion, reconstruction, development and an explosion of its population had made Beijing one of the most economically dynamic cities in the world, but the side effects were impressive as well: air pollution kept apace and deteriorating everyday due to industrial and vehicle emissions in and around the city.

Crop straw burning by suburban farmers and coal-burning in the heating system in winter as well as factories in and around Beijing had long been blamed as the main cause for the worsening air conditions,now the government has banned crop subdues burning in the countryside and ordered most factories to replace their coal-burning systems with natural gas and other environment-friendly alternatives.

The factors causing Beijing's air pollution have changed dramatically, with coal-burning now accounting for less than 10 percent of the city's energy, according to official statistics.

And yet air qualities barely improved in Beijing as car emissions quickly took over as the number one source of air pollution as cars entered hundreds of thousands of Beijing families like anywhere else in the country which was marching toward a more affluent society.       

As of 2017, China had been the largest vehicle producer and buyer in the world for nine years in a row with 310 million automotive vehicles on its roads at the end of the same year, up 5.1 percent from the previous year, according to a report released by the ministry of ecology and environment in June.

These vehicles emitted about 43.59 million metric tons of pollutants, down 2.5 percent year-on-year due to various emission  controls, but still posed the most serious threat to the environment and public health as well, according to the report.

Freight trucks, mostly diesel-driven-driven in China, were blamed as the worst polluter among vehicles.

The ministry of ecology and environment vowed to take the sternest measures to supervise the quality of diesel products and diesel engines and increase the use of rail transportation in freight services to cut back air pollution.    

Emissions from diesel trucks, which make up only 7.8 percent of automotive vehicles in China, account for 57.3 percent of nitrogen oxide and 77.8 percent of particulate matter in the country's air, the ministry said.

Vehicle emission control also figured high in the agenda of Beijing to improve the air in the city.

High-emissions vehicles would be forbidden within Beijing's Sixth Ring Road, said Mayor Chen Jining at the opening of the first session of the 15th Beijing People's Congress in January.

"Targeting motor vehicle exhaust emissions is a precise treatment for Beijing's smoggy weather, because studies have found they are the top source of the city's major air pollutants." said Liu Bingjiang, an expert with the ministry of ecology and environment.    

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