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This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post.
Confronted with a cooling economy and global headlines declaring an “Airpocalypse”, China faces challenges on multiple fronts. While many people are quick to point out the hurdles, the reality is that its leaders are moving ahead with significant policy measures and reforms. If successful, these actions will not only help drive China’s economic development, they will address another mounting threat: climate change.
Last week, China’s leadership met at the Third Plenum of the Central Committee to outline major reforms China will undertake over the next decade. While China faces multiple challenges, reforms related to greater environmental protection and low-carbon development were high on the agenda. China’s leaders understand the challenges and are taking actions that can have significant impact.
When I went back to China this summer after my first year living outside of China in a decade I was not sure what I would find. The US press reporting on Chinese pollution had been so uniformly negative that I was not sure if somehow immediately after I left Beijing the improvements that had been taking place since the 11th Five Year Plan began in 2006 had suddenly stalled. What I found was quite to the contrary – new regulations that come into effect in 2014 are driving massive upgrades of the power sector and transforming the energy supply in central cities.
It is common knowledge that China burns a large amount of coal, with the fuel accounting for nearly 70% of China’s primary energy consumption in recent years. What is less commonly known is that China is also working on ways to reduce the impact of its coal use, including aggressively pursuing research and demonstration of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology.
Last month, China’s State Council announced a new action plan to combat air pollution, which included a prohibition of new coal-fired power plants in the three most important metropolitan areas around Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou (known as the “key-three city clusters”).1 This followed a previous announcement of a $275 billion investment by the central government in improving air quality. The action plan aims to tackle the increasingly severe air pollution problem in China, which is largely caused by its massive consumption of coal.
China has recently announced a plan to tackle air pollution across the country. The plan includes setting regional targets on coal use and taking high-polluting vehicles from the streets. The plan also sets target levels for regional atmospheric pollution, with particular attention paid to reducing particulate matter, which is an especially severe problem in China.