Questions Abound Regarding China’s New War on Pollution

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Air quality in some parts of China reaches “hazardous” levels, according to some experts. That has drawn both public ire and concern on the part of the government which fears that unhappy citizens might breed instability. As a result, the Chinese government is ready to “declare war” on pollution.

“We will resolutely declare war against pollution as we declared war against poverty,” said Premier Li Keqiang in an address last week. He also described the growing smog as “nature’s red-light warning against inefficient and blind development.”

Cleaning up pollution should have several benefits. It has turned into a key component of upgrading the economy by shifting the focus away from heavy industry and helping to alleviate the perpetual problem of overcapacity. According to Li, China will reduce steel production capacity by 27 million tons, cement production by 42 million tons, and shut down some 50,000 small coal-fired furnaces.

China emitted nearly 10 million tons of CO2 in 2012, and is already suffering with a water crisis in certain areas.
China emitted nearly 10 million tons of CO2 in 2012, and is already suffering with a water crisis in certain areas.

“This is an acknowledgement at the highest level that there is a crisis,” said Craig Hart, an expert on Chinese environmental policy and associate professor at China’s Renmin University.

“Their approach is going to have to be pro-economy. I think they will pump money into upgrading plants,” he added. “This could be another green stimulus although it is not being packaged that way.”

Though most everyone can agree that taking steps to clean up pollution will be beneficial, some have expressed concern about whether or not the right approach is going to be used. China does not have the infrastructure to use only wind and solar power and not enough natural gas or a sufficient nuclear sector to meet all needs. That means synthetic natural gas, aka syngas, will be used.

The synthetic option, which is created by burning the natural gas developed by coal, creates fewer pollutants that traditional coal-burning. However, it produces 82% more carbon dioxide and uses a high volume of water. China emitted nearly 10 million tons of CO2 in 2012, and is already suffering with a water crisis in certain areas. The new policies could make those issues even worse.

One thing Li also emphasized that will not contribute to those problems is converting 333,000 acres of farmland to forest and grassland to fight desertification and recover wetlands. In addition, the government should also think about helping cities go green by planting trees, which act as “green lungs” and help to clean the air. They could help offset emissions from new power sources.

Finding the balance between affordable and effective power options will be vital for the Chinese government as it starts its new war on pollution. Right now, there are intriguing concerns about whether current plans will prove to be advantageous.

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