Ex­chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ences to fight air pol­lu­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

This week, Chi­nese and in­ter­na­tional pol­lu­tion man­age­ment pro­fes­sion­als are gath­er­ing in Bei­jing for a se­ries of events as part of a Pol­lu­tion Man­age­ment and En­vi­ron­men­tal Health Busi­ness Week hosted by the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and the Bei­jing En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Bureau with the sup­port of the World Bank to share their ex­pe­ri­ences in air qual­ity man­age­ment.

These events are par­tic­u­larly timely as the toll from air pol­lu­tion is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ap­par­ent across the world, es­pe­cially for low and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries. Those of us liv­ing in pol­luted cities see ev­i­dence of the bur­den of air pol­lu­tion all around us. That many of our fel­low city dwellers choose to wear masks serves as a daily re­minder that we are breath­ing pol­luted air.

Over the past five years, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has been fo­cus­ing on ad­dress­ing PM2.5, par­tic­u­late mat­ter with a di­am­e­ter of 2.5 mi­crom­e­ters or less, which is the most crit­i­cal pol­lu­tant for pub­lic health. In 2012, the gov­ern­ment is­sued stricter stan­dards for am­bi­ent PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tion, which went into ef­fect in Jan­uary 2016 and are com­pa­ra­ble to stan­dards de­fined by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) has set the tar­get of re­duc­ing PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tion by 18 per­cent. This is the first time PM2.5 tar­gets have been in­cluded in a fiveyear plan. China is es­tab­lish­ing the most ex­ten­sive air mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem in the world, which is al­ready cov­er­ing 338 cities na­tion­wide.

While air qual­ity has im­proved over the past years, lev­els of air pol­lu­tion are and will re­main high caus­ing eco­nomic and so­cial costs. To con­tinue im­prov­ing the air qual­ity across China’s cities, China needs to ad­dress three key chal­lenges.

First, there is a need for an ef­fec­tive re­gional air qual­ity man­age­ment mech­a­nism. Wind can carry air pol­lu­tion more than 500 kilo­me­ter from its source, so pol­lu­tion caused in one prov­ince may be blown into an­other prov­ince. In­deed, 20 to 40 per­cent of PM2.5, the main form of air pol­lu­tion in China, comes from out­side the af­fected prov­ince or city. The Bei­jing-Tian­jin-He­bei re­gion has de­vel­oped a mech­a­nism for shar­ing air qual­ity in­for­ma­tion. This could pro­vide a plat­form for in­creas­ing re­gional-level planning and com­mit­ment set­ting while im­ple­men­ta­tion re­mains at the lo­cal level.

Sec­ond, there is a need to strengthen mon­i­tor­ing and anal­y­sis of ad­di­tional sources of pol­lu­tion. Some sources of pol­lu­tion, such as coal-fired power plants, heavy in­dus­try, road ve­hi­cles and con- struc­tion sites, are well known and well un­der­stood. Other sources, such as agri­cul­ture and live­stock waste, biomass burn­ing, ru­ral stoves and off-road heavy equip­ment also con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to pol­lu­tion, and re­quire bet­ter mon­i­tor­ing and fur­ther anal­y­sis. This is im­por­tant be­cause there are chem­i­cal in­ter­ac­tions be­tween emis­sions from dif­fer­ent sources, like road ve­hi­cles and agri­cul­ture, which worsen pol­lu­tion. In the end, re­gional air qual­ity man­age­ment plans re­quire a multi-sec­toral ap­proach that in­cludes all these sources. Such an ap­proach brings ad­di­tional ben­e­fits of mak­ing those sec­tors more ef­fi­cient and com­pet­i­tive.

Third, there are cost-ef­fi­cien­cies to be gained from co­or­di­nat­ing air qual­ity man­age­ment and cli­mate change pol­icy. The syn­er­gies be­tween car­bon emis­sions and air pol­lu­tion are well rec­og­nized; how­ever, it is im­por­tant to re­al­ize that there are dis­cords too. As such, we can­not as­sume that a re­duc­tion in car­bon emis­sions au­to­mat­i­cally im­proves air qual­ity. A clear ex­am­ple of dis­cor­dance is Europe’s shift from gaso­line to diesel ve­hi­cles. It is

true that diesel ve­hi­cles emit 15 to 20 per­cent less car­bon diox­ide; how­ever, they also emit about 20 times more ni­tro­gen ox­ides com­pared to gaso­line ve­hi­cles, which is a con­trib­u­tor to air pol­lu­tion.

Chi­nese author­i­ties re­al­ize that re­duc­ing air pol­lu­tion is a longterm process which can be ac­cel­er­ated by ben­e­fit­ing from lessons learned from other coun­tries which have al­ready re­duced their air pol­lu­tion to ac­cepted lev­els. At the same time, the Pol­lu­tion Man­age­ment and En­vi­ron­men­tal Health Busi­ness Week will pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for other coun­tries to learn from China’s re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence in im­ple­ment­ing and strength­en­ing air qual­ity man­age­ment pol­icy.

The au­thor is the World Bank’s lead en­vi­ron­men­tal spe­cial­ist for China.


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