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Earlier this week, Chinese authorities closed down the coal-fired Gaojing Thermal Plant, which was built in the 1960s, the first of four that power the capital Beijing.
By the time the last of the four is shut down at the end of 2016, China will have launched four gas-powered power plants to replace them.
A report last year from the National People’s Congress Environment and Resources Protection Committee warns that if China continues to push its industrialisation and urbanisation drive, environmental pollution and ecological degradation may worsen.
In September 2013, China released a five-year plan of pollution curbing measures to improve air quality in the capital.
The Beijing municipal government has pledged to reduce the concentration of airborne particles (PM 2.5) density by 25 per cent or more by 2017.
PM 2.5 are airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter which can pose health risks.
In January 2013, PM 2.5 readings in the capital averaged nine times the safe level defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The new proposal has as of January 2014 restricted the number of new cars on the road with further cuts for the next four years.
Decades of breakneck economic growth, the coal-dominated energy mix and lax environmental law enforcement has poisoned much of the country’s air, water and soil.
Air quality of the nation’s cities is of increasing concern to the new Chinese leadership as they stress on “sustainable growth”.
China’s leadership has pledged to tackle air pollution using several different measures on the city, provincial and national level, such as slashing coal consumption, closing steel plants, restricting automobile usage and creating pilot carbon markets
The country has set a target of raising $729.7 billion for environmental protection industries by 2015, coupled with strict new measures that the government hopes will cut emissions of 10,000 tonnes of sulfur dioxide, 19,000 tonnes of nitric oxide and 3,000 tonnes of dust annually.
In March, Vice-Minister of Environmental Protection Wu Xiaoqing rebuked a majority of Chinese cities – including Beijing – saying that only three of 74 in a nation-wide study met national air quality standards.
Haikou, capital of southernmost Hainan Province, Zhoushan, an island city of east China’s Zhejiang Province, and Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region all had air quality which came under 100 in the AQI international measuring system.
An air quality index above 100 is considered unhealthy to sensitive persons, or those with breathing problems, such as asthma. Going over an index of 300 is hazardous, says the World Health Organisation.
In response, Beijing announced in April that it will close 1,725 small-scale coal mines with a total capacity of 117.48 million tonnes in 2014 as part of its initiative to minimize dependence on low-quality coal production.