The Chinese Government Trying Hard to Deal with Pollution

By Xiaoyi Wang

Photo: Electric Car Station , Creative Commons License

On October 17, 2017, the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a China Environment Forum titled Working Towards Clean Cars and Clean Skies in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta. The event was organized by Ms. Jennifer L. Yurner, who has been managing the China Environment Forum for 18 years. Two speakers, Mr. Simon Ng and Ms. Zifei Yang gave their speeches.

City Planning

Mr. Simon Ng is an independent researcher on urban sustainability. He focused his speech on city planning in Hong Kong. After comparing Hong Kong with Los Angeles, he pointed out that Hong Kong is more vertical and with more limited space, which promotes people to use public transportation. However, the Hong Kong government must still grapple with certain pressing issues, such as the current priority given to cars over pedestrians. In response, the Hong Kong government has been working on zoning plans. By setting up the Energizing Kowloon East Office (EKEO), the Hong Kong government intends to beautify Kowloon East for it to be more pedestrian-oriented.

On February 21, 2016, the Chinese central government released a guideline, the “Several Opinions of the State Council on Further Regulating Urban Planning and Construction” ( 中共中央国务院关于进一步加强城市规划建设管理工作的若干意见 - translated by author), aimed at building more walk-able cities by tearing down the walled boundaries between residential districts and opening residential areas to the public. The document has generated huge online discussions. Some people are concerned about public safety, while others focus more on property issues, since under the Property Law of the People’s Republic of China, roads, green lands and other public facilities inside residential areas are owned by all residents. The guideline is still in the “opinion” phase (not yet crystallized into law), and the discretion to remove the walls may be given to the residence committees.

More Stringent Regulations

Ms. Zifei Yang is a researcher for the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). She has been working on renewable energy issues and clean transportation mainly within Guangdong Province in the Pearl River Delta area. She pointed out that the Chinese government has been committed to environmental protection for a long time. From 2000 to 2017, more stringent emission standards have been set, and local governments can adopt even more stringent standard on gas emission than the central government.  

The recently amended Environmental Protection Law (which came into force in 2015) shows the determination of the Chinese government on environment protection and is perceived as the most stringent law in the history of environmental protection in China. Because of the pressure from Beijing, local governments have been compelled to strengthen their regulations in order to keep their funding.

Local governments have also placed great efforts on enforcement, which used to be a tough issue. In Shenzhen, newer and cleaner cars are inspected once a year, while older and less clean cars are inspected twice a year. A remote sensing system is also used to spot high-emission vehicles, and local governments cooperate with each other to make sure tickets are sent to the car owner.

These more stringent policies may influence car manufacturers as well. In 2019, the Chinese government will likely enforce a new policy, requiring all car manufacturers to sell a minimum of 8% electric cars. Also, the Chinese government promotes the use of electric cars by giving many benefits to individuals. In Shanghai, electric car owners could get a car license for free, which usually takes more than $10,000 and half a year to get (Shanghai car owners need to bid for car licenses).

Shared Bicycles and Subsidies to Replace Old Cars

The speakers also mentioned shared bicycles in China, which is one of China’s most popular topics for 2017. Because of the low rental fee (around $0.15 per hour), shared bicycles are widely used as public transportation. These shared bicycles are purely private startups, as the Chinese government has not invested in the business. It has, however, built and maintained bike lanes to encourage the continued use of shared bicycles.

The Chinese government also subsidizes car owners to replace old cars with clean cars. The local governments have discretions to set the specific number and the enforcement procedure. The Guangdong government decreases the subsidy year by year, so, as explained by Yang, consumers realize that “the earlier you get rid of your old car, the more subsidy you will get.”. Since the subsidy cannot cover the entire purchase price, for those car owners intending to keep their old cars, they are required to put a filter on the pipeline, which can reduce particle pollution by 99%.

“[The] Chinese government is doing everything it can,” noted Yurner. Indeed, the Chinese government is trying hard to improve the environmental situation and to solve the severe air pollution out of concern for the people’s health and long-term development. As a country with such a large population, China still has a long way to go. However, the Beijing government has already paid a lot of attention to environmental protection. With the great efforts put in place to deal with air pollution, its environmental situation will probably improve with time.