China’s urban air pollution went off the charts this past winter, and the world took notice. With aggressive policies on the books, is this industrial giant finally admitting that health is more important than production?
In a list of the world’s most polluted nations, China is a shoe-in. An accelerated pace of development–including dozens of new textile mills, rubber and fertilizer plants, oil refineries and coal-fired power plants–has left many of China’s cities covered in a thick blanket of life-choking smog.
In early 2013, Beijing made global headlines when NASA images showed the city almost completely obscured in a cloud of airborne particular visible from space. Residents were urged to wear gas masks and advised to stay indoors as much as possible.
No nation, especially one so interested in foreign manufacturing contracts, can afford that type of publicity. So, at least at the legislative level, China has recently announced sweeping changes that could clean up the rampant air pollution and go a long way toward creating healthier cities for its residents.
1. Big Investment
In late July, China’s state media announced a government plan to invest 1.7 trillion yuan ($277 billion) to combat air pollution over the next five years. Citing growing social discontent with China’s air quality as a motivating factor, a government report laid out plans to reduce air emissions by 25 percent by 2017 compared with 2012 levels, especially focusing on urban areas like Beijing.
2. Gasoline Tax
People complain about expensive gas the world over, as if cheap fossil fuels were some kind of human right. They’re not. In fact, countries like America use taxpayer dollars to dish up deep subsidies to Big Oil and Coal. These subsidies are some of the only reasons our gas prices have been so much lower than the rest of the world’s for decades. If people had to pay the true price of gas, they’d probably stop driving so much.
That’s the assumption that led China’s government to unveil a fuel pollution tax that will be added to standard gas prices sometime in the next 12 months. Under current tax law, a liter of gas (about a third of a gallon) is around 8 yuan or $1.30. When the pollution tax is added, a liter of gas will cost ten yuan, or $1.62. This brings it up to about $4.50 a gallon. If this pollution tax is successful in Beijing, the government plans to implement it across the country.
3. Electric Vehicles
As America has so willingly demonstrated, it’s not easy to get a nation of oil-addicted drivers to make the switch to greener vehicles. We like our big engines and our independence. China is the same way, only they have 1.35 billion people to the USA’s 316 million. To help ease the pain of transitioning away from fossil fuels, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology’s (MOST) announced a Five-Year Plan for Electric Vehicles, actively encouraging its citizens to buy electric bikes, scooters, and cars. The nation is targeting 5 million EVs and PHEVs on the road by 2020, although progress has been slower than desired.
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