Smoggy Beijing

Every year, over the Chinese New Year holiday, Beijing gets a reprieve from the smoggy days pictured above. Now is the perfect time to clear one's head and think seriously about how to tackle the city's ongoing pollution problem.

There are two big culprits when it comes to Chinese air pollution: coal and cars. And here's what our report Ranking Eastern Chinese cities by their "clean air" actions had to say about both in relation to the country's power regions, of which Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are the respective centres.

Coal consumption intensity in three regions

Coal consumption

Shanghai tops the list in terms of coal consumption intensity. Tianjin, an industrially developed city, ranks second. Jiangsu in Yangtze River Delta takes third place, while Guangdong fares better. But overall, the coal consumption intensity per unit area in coastal areas of Eastern China is three to six times the national level.

According to the limit of total coal consumption for the coming five years as set by Ministry of Environmental Protection, coal consumption intensity in Jing-Jin-Ji region and Yangtze River Delta will continue to increase by 8% and 10% respectively, which will pose a great challenge to the improvement of air quality and meeting standards in the above regions. The only exception being the Pearl River Delta which is expecting zero coal consumption increases in MEP’s draft plan.

Density of vehicles in the three regions

Vehicles in China

In 2010, nitrogen oxide emitted from vehicles throughout the country reached 5.994 million tons, accounting for 26% of the total emissions. The continuous increase in vehicles makes air pollution a complicated issue. According to the 2011 Vehicle air pollution Annual Report, provinces that have a large number of vehicles in 2010 are primarily located in Eastern China. Guangdong (7.768 million), Shandong (7.005 million), Jiangsu (5.453 million), Zhejiang (5.381 million), Hebei (4.869 million) top the list in terms of number of vehicles. 

Density of vehicles can also tell us something. Beijing has the largest number of vehicles in China and the highest density of vehicles in Jing-Jin-Ji region. With regards to density, Shanghai has the highest density of vehicles in China, equivalent to 23 times the national average level.

But we must take note that except Beijing and Shanghai, none of the other areas have introduced a policy to control the increasing number of vehicles. The uncontrolled vehicle increase will undoubtedly burden the already heavily polluted air. 

Urgent action is needed ... it's time the government set clear targets regarding the control of coal consumption in these areas and check the increase of pollutants at their source. Cities in the Jing-Jin-Ji region, Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta should also introduce effective policy instruments to curb the rapid growth of the number of vehicles on the roads.

Image © Greenpeace / Kuang Yin