Beijing struggles to reduce carbon emissions

Updated: 2012-02-29 15:01


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BEIJING - With 350 million tonnes of coal burned a year in pan-Beijing area, it is difficult for Beijing to fulfill its goal of reducing air pollution, officials and political advisors have said ahead of China's pending legislative sessions.

Meng Wei, head of the Chinese Institute of Environmental Sciences and a longtime low-carbon advocator, said Beijing should establish a "common goal" with its neighbors in Hebei province and Tianjin municipality for reducing pollution.

The Ministry of Environment is mulling a recent proposal submitted by the Beijing Bureau of Environmental Protection, asking the ministry to set up a special organization to help coordinate Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin to reduce coal-burning by 10 percent by 2015, with 15-percent cut expected by 2015.

"Officials and experts have been talking for years about a synchronous air pollution control mechanism in the Pan-Beijing area. This proposal is the first official step toward that goal," said Li Kunsheng, an official with the Beijing Bureau of Environmental Protection.

Li said the pollution control mechanism will require local environmental departments to roll out stricter pollution standards for local thermal power plants, coal-fired heaters and steelmakers.

Beijing's annual coal consumption currently stands at 26 million tonnes. Its neighbors Hebei and Tianjin are much more dependent on coal, consuming 280 million and 47 million tonnes a year, respectively.

Research conducted by the Beijing Bureau of Environmental Protection last year showed that pollution from Beijing's neighboring regions is the largest contributor to the city's PM2.5 reading, a scientific measure of the number of fine particles in the air. Auto emissions are the second-largest contributor.

"Beijing cannot 'do it alone' in the fight for cleaner air. Regional cooperation is indispensable," said Wang Siyue, an atmospheric physicist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The Beijing municipal government announced earlier this month that it aims to reduce the city's average PM2.5 reading from the current 70 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 50 micrograms by 2020.

Beijing's vice mayor Hong Feng said reducing coal-burning is still one of the most important efforts being made to reach the city's pollution control target.

Of the 260 million tonnes of coal burned in Beijing in 2010, 2.79 million tonnes were used by individual households, where polluted air is discharged without being treated. Although most residential coal consumption happens in Beijing's outskirts, there are still 90,000 homes in the city proper that are solely dependent on coal for winter heating.

Turning down the heat

Wang Guoqiang lives less than 4 km away from Tian'anmen Square, a major landmark referred to by many as "the heart of Beijing." The 55-year-old man lives in a 38-square-meter bungalow with his wife and elderly father. A large pile of coal briquettes sits outside his house.

"Burning the coal makes us feel suffocated inside the house, but carbon monoxide poisoning is our biggest fear when using the coal furnace," Wang said.

Wang said the power lines on his street cannot deliver enough electricity to power electric heaters, adding that heaters are too expensive for him to afford anyway.

The Beijing Bureau of Environmental Protection said in December 2011 that it will provide subsidies to all 90,000 of the city's coal-burning households by 2014 to allow them to retrofit their homes for electric heating. Bureau official Liu Wei said the bureau has made house calls to these families to inquire about their needs.