Joint approach in fight against winter smog

The smog-prone northern region of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei is to set up a joint environmental protection agency in an effort to coordinate the region's war on pollution.

The smog-prone northern region of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei is to set up a joint environmental protection agency in an effort to coordinate the region’s war on pollution, the China Securities Journal reported on Wednesday.

The agency, part of wider efforts to improve cross-regional environmental governance, will be in place by the end of the year, the paper said, citing Ministry of Environmental Protection officials.

The region was home to eight of China’s 10 smoggiest cities in September and is involved in a winter campaign that will slash industrial output and restrict traffic in a bid to meet air quality targets.

Creating unified environmental standards across the region was a key element of a regional economic integration plan launched by President Xi Jinping in 2014.

According to academic studies, around a third of the smog drifting across Beijing originates in neighboring Hebei Province, China’s biggest steel-producing region and also a major producer of cement.

Regulators have already promised to establish a unified system of environmental governance that will create cross-regional emission standards and prevent non-compliant firms in the capital from shifting operations to Hebei.

They have also vowed to implement coordinated emergency response plans during heavy smog outbreaks. 

Inspection teams dispatched

China has channeled more work into improving air quality in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area by replacing dirtier coal use and penalizing polluters in its latest efforts to lower the intensity of winter smog.

Inspection teams have been dispatched to cities identified as sources of pollution and companies in breach of emission rules, according to the ministry.

Beijing imposed more than 160 million yuan (US$24 million) in fines on sources of pollution in the first 10 months of this year, up 77 percent from a year ago, and set up an “environmental protection police” force. Some 1,414 officials were held accountable in Tianjin, which tripled fines on polluting companies to 249 million yuan.

Hebei phased out 33,600 small coal-fired boilers and reduced an oversupply in steel and cement capacity by more than 40 million and 2 million tons, respectively, to reduce dust emissions.

Tianjin, meanwhile, is planning to ban haphazard coal burning by the end of next year.

A total of 1.21 million households in the city will switch from coal-fired heating sources to gas and electric sources by then, said Wen Wurui, director of Tianjin’s environmental protection bureau.

Coal burning contributes up to 25 percent of the hazardous PM2.5 particles in Tianjin, Wen said.

Local authorities have taken measures to reduce coal consumption, improve coal quality, raise emission standards and curb haphazard coal burning.

Tianjin plans to cut annual coal consumption by another 2.6 million tons this year after reducing it by 10 million tons between 2013 and 2016.

It has already renovated 41 coal-fired power generators to lower emissions levels.

Authorities in Tianjin and Hebei previously ordered heavily polluting industries, including steel, casting and coking, to restrict production and cut emissions in the winter heating period.

The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region sits at the heart of the North China Plain where air pollution, particularly winter smog, often occurs as a result of the high concentration of industrial and vehicle emissions, limited air circulation and coal burning.

China has set a target to reduce the average PM2.5 level by at least 15 percent in the cities around the region between October 2017 and March 2018, compared to last year’s level. 

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