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China to scrap six million cars in toxic smog drive

Authorities vow to take radical action as pollution levels choke major cities across country

Beijing smog (Pic: Benjamin Vander Steen/Flickr)

Beijing smog (Pic: Benjamin Vander Steen/Flickr)

By Ed King

China’s government has underlined its determination to tackle toxic urban smogs by ordering six million high-polluting cars off the road by the end of 2014.

The rules will hit vehicles that do not meet exhaust emissions standards, and are likely to affect 20% of cars in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei.

“Strengthening control on vehicle emissions will be a major agenda item for the country’s energy savings, emissions reductions, and low-carbon development during the next two years,” the State Council said in a message on its website.

The number of vehicles on the road has soared by a multiple of 20 since 2002, according to the government, which also says 31.1% of air pollution comes from exhausts.

Since the start of the year Beijing’s authorities have been forced to adopt urgent measures to counter the thick layers of air pollution that hang over the city.

These have included restricting the number of cars allowed on the streets on any one day, shutting down coal power plants and heavy industry within the city’s confines, as well as future promises to limit the number of cars on the road to 5.6 million.

According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution killed seven million people in 2012, confirming that it is now the world’s largest environmental health risk

Global impact

As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and steps China takes to cut its carbon footprint are scrutinised carefully.

In 2012, China’s per capita emissions grew to almost equal Europe’s, averaging 7.2 and 7.5 tonnes per capita respectively.

But domestic pressures to provide citizens with clean air appear to be a major driving factor in the government’s long term planning.

According to the state news agency Xinhua: “Frequent bouts of smog have been a major source of public complaint in Beijing,” with the city reporting 58 days of “serious pollution” in 2013.

New laws currently being considered mean harsher punishments for polluters, and will give legal backing to the country’s attempts to protect the environment and reduce its emissions.

In the past 12 months six carbon trading schemes have also been launched, the most recent in Hubei on April 2.

China has committed to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per unit of GDP, called carbon intensity, by 40-45 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.

By 2015, China expects to cut the carbon intensity of the economy by 17% compared with 2005 levels.

The country’s acute vulnerability to climate change is also thought to be a strong motivating factor for the government, worried about the threat of rising sea levels on Shanghai and Hong Kong, and the effect of extreme weather events or urban and farming areas.

In the past few days severe flooding in Hunan Province has affected 400,000 citizens, displacing 16,776 and destroying 520 houses, according to local media.

In the south western Yunnan Province wildfires burned 300 hectares in two days, requiring 3,900 firefighters to get it under control.

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