Sacrifices are needed to tackle China’s smog
Beijing // In China’s major cities, residents routinely suffer weeks and even months of smog-filled streets every year.
As part of a growing push to tackle the issue, Beijing last year rolled out a five-year plan to invest US$368 billion into renewable energy projects up to 2020. The plan will create more than 13 million jobs in the sector, according to the national energy administration.
Tackling the smog problem requires several changes in industrial structure, energy consumption and lifestyles, Chen Jining, the minister of environmental protection said recently.
“It is a battle against a heavily fortified target, and it will last a long time,” he said.
But China is readying for the war. Major Chinese companies have been importing and adapting clean technologies to conserve energy and curb factory emissions.
Two Chinese steel makers, Baosteel Group and Shougang Group, have established systems to turn industrial waste gas into fuel and chemical products with the help of technology provided by the US firm LanzaTech.
In the public domain, China has emerged as the largest electric car market, accounting for more than 40 per cent of battery-powered cars sold worldwide, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IAE). The Chinese electric car maker BYD is now challenging international majors including Tesla and Nissan in terms of market share.
“China has come a long way from being a country that contributed to the failure of the [2009 United Nations climate change] Copenhagen summit to one that helped finalise the Paris Agreement [signed in April 2016] with the help of the US. It has a more important role to play in the global battle against climate change,” Li Shuo, the global policy adviser to the environmental NGO Greenpeace, tells The National.
As an example of China’s shift in its position on climate sensitivity, installations of wind and solar power have soared in recent years. Throughout last year, solar panel installations equivalent in size to three football pitches were installed every hour on average in China. Meanwhile, coal’s dominance is slipping. Coal consumption in China probably peaked in 2013, according to the IEA. Moreover, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have stayed nearly flat since 2013, due in large part to China’s decreasing reliance on coal. Indeed, 2015 was the first time China’s CO2 emissions decreased in the past 15 years. This is a significant achievement, given the country is still dependent on coal for more than 60 per cent of its energy needs.
China is the world leader in renewable energy investment, with $102.9bn in 2015, according to the World Resources Institute. In 2013, China banned the construction of new coal plants in three industrial regions, and in 2014, the country set new targets to reduce or limit coal use in 12 provinces for the period of 2014 to 2017.
China’s power sector five-year plan, released in November, shows continued momentum. The plan sets new renewable energy targets, a limit on capacity of coal-fired power plants at 1,100GW by 2020, and a limit on the use of coal in primary energy at less than 58 per cent, down from 64 per cent in 2015. In 2016, China also announced that it was halting or delaying construction of coal plants in 28 provinces
“The development of clean energy technology in China has been remarkable in the past years,” Adnan Z Amin, the director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, said on the sidelines of a clean energy meeting in Beijing last week. “This has also had a global benefit; this scale of investment in technology, production and manufacturing has led to dramatic decreases in [equipment] prices,” he said.
But investments on renewables may not be enough unless high-emission industries such as steel and cement are ready to make some major changes across the board. These could include ceasing production during the peak smog period in winter, said Mr Chen. Besides production, transporting these goods is also a cause of pollution.
“Industrial enterprises have to sacrifice for people’s livelihood,” the official Xinhua media agency quoted Mr Chen as saying recently.
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Updated: June 14, 2017 04:00 AM