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How China is winning its war on air pollution, at least in Beijing

Pollution in the capital fell by 54% in fourth quarter: Greenpeace


air pollution
Besides a reduction in household coal use, measures to cut industrial emission and favourable weather conditions “contributed to the very dramatic reduction in pollution levels” in Beijing

is seeing signs of success in its fight against smog as levels slump dramatically in the capital region Beijing.

Concentrations of PM2.5 — the tiny particles that pose the greatest health risks — plunged 33 percent from a year earlier in the fourth quarter across Beijing, Tianjin and 26 surrounding cities, Greenpeace East Asia said in a report Thursday. Levels in the capital alone tumbled 54 percent. The drops come after policies last year forced millions of homes and businesses to switch from coal to cleaner-burning

The bluer skies came at a price, as the widespread switching to contributed to shortages of the fuel, leaving homes frigid and factories shut. Still, improving air quality is a win for President Xi Jinping, who pledged to unleash an “iron hand” against pollution, and anti-coal measures will likely continue, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

“The switch from coal to gas has dramatically reduced pollution,” Bernstein analysts including Neil Beveridge in Hong Kong wrote in a report Thursday. “While there have been problems in implementation, the plan is delivering results.”

Replacing coal with gas for residential and industrial use is part of a series of measures to clean smoggy cities, along with closing outdated or illegal steel mills, coal mines and aluminum smelters. demand rose 19 percent through October, the latest data show. It will probably rise by 15 percent this year as Beijing sticks to its anti-coal guns and spurs development of gas infrastructure, Beveridge wrote.

Worth it?

The shift toward cleaner heating fuels proved problematic in November and December, as some regions ran short of natural gas, forcing the to halt factories to prioritise supplies for residential users, and in some cases let homes go back to burning coal. However, “negative effects caused by the transition from coal to gas are relatively small," making it worthwhile for to expand the switch and start up nuclear power plant construction, said Jiang Kejun, a researcher at the Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission.

The NDRC in December announced a winter-heating plan for northern regions expected to cut coal use 150 million metric tons by 2021. Natural gas, biomass, heat pumps, direct electric heating and geothermal power will replace the dirtier-burning fuel.

Besides a reduction in household coal use, measures to cut industrial emissions and favorable weather conditions “contributed to the very dramatic reduction in levels” in Beijing and surrounding areas, Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at Greenpeace in Beijing, said by phone.

Nationwide, the air-quality improvement was less dramatic, with a 4.5 percent decrease in PM2.5 levels during 2017, according to Greenpeace.

“We shall expect the winter in 2018 to be even cleaner as the carries out the campaign on coal to gas more thoroughly,” said Tian Miao, a Beijing-based specialist at Everbright Sun Hung Kai Co.

© Bloomberg

First Published: Thu, January 11 2018. 22:38 IST