By Joshua Ostrer
This Monday, China announced plans to curb its pollution problem. China plans to take more than five million vehicles off its roads by the end of 2014. The plan also calls for at least 330,000 cars to be decommissioned in Beijing alone.
The plan comes in the wake of faltering progress in stopping rampant air pollution in China, and especially Beijing.
Air pollution is not a new problem for China.
China’s air pollution problem is tied to the country’s dramatic economic development in many ways.
In 2011, China alone accounted for over 87 percent of the worldwide increase in coal consumption.
China is burning almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, totaling 47 percent of world coal consumption.
China’s air pollution, measured in airborne particulate matter (PM 2.5), has actually produced so much smog that many of China’s biggest cities are no longer visible from space.
According to Beijing’s environmental watchdog, vehicular emissions are the cause of 31 percent of PM 2.5 in Chinese air.
It’s no secret that China’s sudden increase in vehicular ownership has led to increased pollution.
China ranks 95th in vehicles per capita, and in 2009 the country surpassed the United States as the largest auto-consuming country in the world.
In February of this year, Chinese media outlets reported that China had over 250 million vehicles on its nation’s roads.
So how can China deal with its now record-setting air pollution?
Beijing alone plans to set a limit on the number of cars allowed on the city’s roads. The limit will be 5.6 million automobiles.
While statistics regarding the number of cars in Beijing are estimates, the most recent approximation listed Beijing as having nearly 5 million vehicles as of 2011.
The Chinese government will also be removing at least 660,000 automobiles from the province surrounding Beijing, Hebei. Hebei holds seven of China’s most smog-ridden cities.
These immediate changes are the first steps in China’s environmental policy goals, scheduled to be met by 2015.
Many have considered progress thus far to be insufficient. The Chinese government has set some lofty goals for its country.
The world’s most populous country wants to cut carbon emissions by four percent per unit of economic growth in an effort to get back on track for its 2015 goal of 17 percent reduction.
China also intends to reduce its energy consumption to achieve a 16 percent reduction per unit of economic growth by 2015.
China is trying to solve its pollution problem through a combination of energy consumption reform, the removal of out-of-date vehicles from the road, the reduction of coal-fired heating systems and the promotion of the use of electric vehicles. But whether or not China will be able to fulfill its anti-pollution promises remains to be seen.
However, if Beijing is any example for China at large, there is some promise. Beijing has already instituted a program similar to the U.S. Car Allowance Rebate System, or more colloquially, the “cash for clunkers” program.
Beijing has already planned to pay for emissions upgrades for over 200,000 out-of-date vehicles, handing out 2,500-14,500 yuan rewards for doing so (the equivalent of $400-$2,300).
Beijing has already reduced the number of new license plates issued to the public by 37 percent, or 150,000 a year.
Clearly, China is taking drastic steps to fight its pollution problem.
Depending on its success or failure, China may be able to set an example for how first-world powers can combat the environmental destructiveness that often seems to accompany industrial growth.