Traffic moves at a snail's pace near the Dongzhimen Bridge at the 2nd Ring Road in Beijing, September 1, 2013. Traffic jams, already an everyday scene in Beijing, are expected to worsen in September as the new school year begins. [Photo: Zou Hong/asianewsphoto.com]
Beijing on Monday unveiled a package of measures, including cutting vehicle emissions and curbing industrial pollution, in a bid to improve air quality in the often smog-shrouded city.
The package is part of an action plan released by the municipal government, which has pledged to reduce PM 2.5 density by 25 percent or more by 2017.
According to the five-year clean air action plan (2013-2017), the municipal government will restrict the number of new cars on the road each year from January 2014.
By 2017, the number of vehicles in the city is expected to be no more than 6 million, according to the package. The city had 5.35 million vehicles by the end of July, according to figures from the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau.
By promoting new-energy and small-displacement vehicles, reducing the intensity of vehicle use and strictly enforcing regulations, the government expects to reduce total vehicle fuel consumption by 5 percent or more compared with 2012.
The city's traffic management and environmental protection bureaus will prepare traffic control rules for passenger cars by the end of 2013, which will mainly focus on time and area restrictions. The rules are expected to be implemented in 2014.
The municipal government has also vowed to improve the city's public transport and introduce a comprehensive public bicycle rental system by 2017, in order to make public transportation account for 60 percent of total vehicle trips made in the city.
Under the plan, air quality will improve significantly by 2017, with PM 2.5 density controlled to around 60 micrograms per cubic meter.
PM 2.5 are airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter which can pose health risks.
Vehicles in the city are considered a major contributor to Beijing's pollution -- and one that keeps growing.
A report issued by a research team under the Chinese Academy of Sciences revealed that vehicle exhaust fumes are among Beijing's top sources of air pollution, contributing to 22.2 percent of PM2.5 in the city, exceeding the figure for industry emissions.
"In order to curb vehicle emissions, we have to introduce a market mechanism to reduce intensity of vehicle use," said Li Kunsheng, an official in charge of vehicle emission management with the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.
Li said that government departments should make changes to parking costs and raise fuel prices, with the extra money used to deal with emission reduction.
"But both means should be carried out carefully as they may affect people's livelihoods," Li added.
PLANTS UPGRADED OR SHUT DOWN
In order to clean up the city's air, the Beijing municipal government also rolled out measures to curb industrial pollution.
According to the action plan, 1,200 polluting companies will be ordered to upgrade or close parts or all of their facilities in the years to 2016.
Authorities will identify polluters in township- and village-level industrial zones and shut them down if they fail to meet pollution reduction targets, said the plan.
The total amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dust and volatile organic compound emissions will be a prerequisite of environmental impact assessments for any new projects starting this year.
In regions or industries that fail to meet air pollution reduction targets, no new projects that emit major air pollutants will be given regulatory approval as of 2013.
The local government will push forward water and electricity pricing reforms to raise prices for big water and power users to drive them to upgrade or shut down their polluting, energy-guzzling facilities as early as 2014.
The authorities will also increase discharge fees for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions this year and levy a new fee for discharge of volatile organic compounds next year. It will start a pilot emissions trading scheme for major polluters in 2014.
Companies that break environmental laws will be blocked from receiving bank loans, fund-raising through initial public offerings and value-added tax breaks starting this year, under the plan.
The action plan has set a tough target that needs involvement and concerted efforts from many departments, said Yu Jianhua, the air and environment director with the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, which is also one of the main composers of the plan.
More than 50 government officials as well as company executives have been made responsible for the implementation of the measures, according to Yu.
He said the measures, while improving the capital's air quality, will also help promote the upgrading of its industrial structure and optimize its economic development mode.
"In the meantime, the environmental protection awareness of the public will be dramatically uplifted," he added.
Yu, however, noted that neighboring provinces and municipalities will also need to intensify their efforts to curb pollution.
Beijing is surrounded by heavy-chemical industrial bases featuring iron and steal, building material, thermal power, and cement, that contribute significantly to the capital city's air pollution.
"Beijing's air quality improvement will be realized only if the overall environment at regional level is improved," Yu said.