China will take more aggressive steps for cleaner cars and power in the face of killer air pollution

Schoolchildren were ordered to halt outdoor sports activities for several days as a dirty cloud of smog shrouded Beijing in January This was among a series of emergency response measures adopted in Beijing when the city’s Air Quality Index exceeded 500 micrograms, the highest level. Anything above this is regarded as “beyond index.” The air pollution crisis could prod faster and stronger steps for air pollution mitigation similar to events like the London Fog in 1952 (air pollution event that killed about 12000 people over 2 weeks) caused action in Europe and North America.

Reports of respiratory problems — as well as the sale of masks — have skyrocketed, according to state media, and over the weekend, streets appeared emptier, as a sun was barely visible amid a hazy blanket.

Hospital admissions for respiratory complaints jumped 20%

China produced 9.7 million kilotons of carbon dioxide while the United States had 5.42 million kilotons in 2011. However, the immediate health risks are from the sulfur and particulate air pollution.

PM2.5 (2.5 micron particulate matter) is from four different sources: chemical reactions from sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds and black carbon [soot]. A large number of sources need to be tackled to solve the problem. The main sources are cars, ships, trains, building construction, coal power generation and factories.

Hong Kong and China are advancing laws to reduce or limit sulfur in fuel used in cars and ships.

Measures announced in January by Beijing include getting rid of at least 180,000 older cars and trucks in the city, encouraging the use of less-polluting vehicles and shutting about 450 factories.

The World Health Organization recommends that PM2.5 levels be kept below 25 micrograms per cubic meter. In January, Beijing air quality levels reached nearly 900 micrograms. A level of 300 is considered hazardous.

Hong Kong is Tackling Dirty Fuel

Among motor vehicles, much of Hong Kong’s roadside air pollution comes from those running on dirty diesel fuel, which emits particulate matter and nitrogen oxides that cause enormous damage to human health. According to Hong Kong’s Environmental Bureau, there are 128,000 commercial diesel vehicles and 88,000 of them are running on high sulfur, pre-Euro IV standard fuel. These contributed 88 percent of particulate matter and 46 percent of NOx of all vehicle emissions in 2010. Switching to lower-sulfur, Euro V fuels would reduce emissions by 80 percent and 30 percent

Hong Kong is also planning on regulating marine emissions, as marine vessels were one of the largest sources of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides in 2011. Ocean-going vessels (OGVs) use an average of 2.6 percent sulfur fuel (2,600 times higher than that of motor vehicles) and emitted 40 percent of all emissions within Hong Kong waters while at berth. In January 2011, a group of ship owners adopted the Fair Winds Charter, a two-year voluntary program (recently extended to December 2013) in which OGVs switch to cleaner fuel (sulfur content less than .5 percent) while docking at Hong Kong ports. The Hong Kong government began providing financial incentives last September to participants of the program by reducing their port fees by half for three years.

But because air pollution is a regional issue, the Hong Kong government is exploring with Guangzhou and Shenzhen Port Authorities (two of the biggest ports in the Pearl River Delta region) joint measures that would require OGVs to switch to low-sulfur fuel while berthing in PRD waters. Ultimately, Hong Kong would like to establish an Emission Control Area (ECA) in PRD waters – the first in Asia – with Guangdong Province, a move that is also being supported by participants of the Fair Winds Charter. Implementing an ECA would clean up all ships operating within 200 nautical miles of the Hong Kong and Guangdong coastlines, and ultimately cut ship emissions by more than 85 percent.

Cleaning up coal power will take decades

China had long term plans to clean up coal power.

Note that nuclear power is not on the list but it has nearly zero air pollution emissions

Costs of power generation around the world.

Nuclear power is two to three times cheaper than clean coal power generation in China

SOURCES – IEA (International Energy Agency), UPI, Economist, NRDC, CNN

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