Environment

Totalitarianism Crushes Pollution in China

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The Chinese capital city of Beijing announced it would be spending $3 billion to reduce air pollution on Friday, which is slightly more than last year. This comes two days after the Mayor of Beijing, Chen Jining, announced that the city would be stepping up environmental inspections of vehicles and building sites.

“The government should strengthen its regular supervision to prevent some illegal discharges, like from hidden pipes or at nights,” Jining said. “We will continue to push the conversion to clean energy from coal in rural areas and phase out vehicles exceeding exhaust emissions standards.”

Before taking over as mayor, Jining lead the Ministry of Environmental Protection in China, which spearheaded major environmental reforms in the country in 2013. Now in 2018, Greenpeace East Asia has issued a report indicating that concentrations of PM2.5 (the smallest particles of pollution, which pose a serious health risk) in Beijing dropped by 54% between the end of 2016 and the end of 2017. Concentrations of PM2.5 were also down by nearly 30% across 26 major cities in northern China.

In 2013, the Chinese government released its “Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan,” which was a sweeping set of rules that sought improve air quality by reducing the dependence on coal for energy. In the years since, Beijing has cut coal use by 50%, and has stopped certain construction projects on coal-burning power plants dead in the water. For Chinese coal workers, this marked a substantial upheaval.

“We will need to re-allocate jobs to 500,000 workers,” said Yin Weimin, the head of China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, describing planned coal production cuts.

In 2016, 726,000 coal and steel jobs have been cut as limits on production have tightened. Working hours have also been reduced for the remaining coal workers to further ebb the production of coal.

As a result, more Chinese workers are migrating out of the coal-producing regions of China and towards cities, alongside other residents who have lost homes due to environmental degradation. China recently relocated 655,000 residents of the Shanxi province after sink holes (caused by mining) threatened cities and villages.

Left: Abandoned homes in the Shanxi province. Right: Homes for resettled people in Xiaoyi city, Shanxi Province. The relocations are not only needed for economic purposes; homes are being destroyed as land subsides in areas where there has been heavy coal mining. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Cold winter temperatures often drive energy demand in northern China, but in October, China rolled out a new set of control measures to reign in that demand, which will remain in effect through March. Those controls were focused on 28 cities in the densely populated Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin region.

To meet government mandates for emission cuts, cities have also imposed regulations of their own. For instance, Beijing has begun the process of banning diesel trucks later this year, which caused sales of liquid natural gas vehicles to skyrocket in 2017. Temporary limits have also been placed on steel and aluminium smelting output around Beijing and Tianjin, as multiple cities have fulfilled promises to shut off coal power to 4 million homes, schools and hospitals.

However, in poorer parts of China, reports have surfaced that coal power has been shut off before infrastructure for other sources of energy was completed, leaving some citizens in the dark.

Children in outside classes in Hebei, China, as teachers turn to the sun for heat in schools without stable heat energy. Seven year olds were reportedly instructed to run in place if they became too cold in the 0 degrees Celsius temperatures. CREDIT: CHINA YOUTH DAILY

Over the summer of 2017, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP)found that 14,000 businesses–a whopping 70% of those being investigated–were failing to meet their environmental standards. In a campaign to “normalize compliance,” the ministry has begun issuing 50% more fines, and “administrative detentions” of company executives have increased by 161%. The MEP released its full 2016 Report on the State of the Environment in China in May 2017.

In spite of this, China’s newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that only 4 of 28 cities succeeded in meeting marks.

LIMA CHARLIE NEWS, with writing by Diego Lynch, and editing by James Fox

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