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UPDATED: March 6, 2014 NO. 2 JANUARY 9, 2014
Cleaning Up the Air
Heavy smog has prompted the government to reconsider its strategies
By Yin Pumin

"The target is to reduce the concentration of PM2.5 to 80 percent of 2012 levels in Shanghai and the neighboring provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu by 2017," Zhang noted.

Some regions are also considering technological remedies.

For example, Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang, decided to build a "green air corridor" to bring in wind from the suburbs and blow away smog in the inner city, according to local newspaper Metropolitan Express.

Experts say that the huge numbers of high-rise buildings along the Qiantang River have blocked southeastern winds from blowing toward the main urban area of Hangzhou, causing pollution to become trapped.

The Hangzhou Municipal Bureau for Urban Planning and the Bureau for Environmental Protection predict that the duct would help drive off heavy smog and relieve the "urban heat island effect" that affects the city in summer.

In their latest attempt, The CMA and the MEP signed a cooperation framework on December 24 last year aimed at improving forecasting services during stretches of heavy pollution.

The framework emphasized information sharing between the two departments including air quality monitoring, weather satellite and atmospheric data. It said that when weather conditions are likely to induce severe smog, weather and environment authorities will hold consultations and issue air pollution alerts in concert.

Feng Lei, Deputy Director of the CMA's Disaster Relief Department, revealed that a trial run would be launched to help urban residents learn about changes in air conditions in advance.

New model

At the annual full session of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, in March 2013, lawmakers handed in several bills on amending the 1987 law on air pollution, which has already been revised twice in 1995 and 2000.

The NPC Standing Committee listed the amendment in its legislation plan, according to the Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee of the NPC. A report it submitted to a bimonthly session of the NPC Standing Committee at the end of last year announced that the committee will speed up the drafting procedure and that lawmakers' proposals have been incorporated into a draft prepared by the Environmental Protection Ministry.

In addition to raising air quality standards and improving related accountability and performance review systems, the report said that more severe penalties should be imposed on polluters under the new law.

While the blame has mainly been put on adverse weather and increasing emissions, some experts point to the role that rapid urbanization has played in the creation of smog.

"China is experiencing what developed countries themselves experienced about 20 to 30 years ago, when smoggy and hazy weather frequently occurred and was caused by fast urbanization and poor urban layout," said Peng Yingdeng, an expert on environmental impact assessment from the MEP. "If urban planning does not take diffusion of pollutants into consideration, smog will plague China for at least another 10 to 20 years."

Fortunately, a high-level conference on urbanization held in mid-December offered a solution for the country's future urban development and a way out of heavy smog, experts say.

"The concept of 'human-centered' urbanization raised at the conference may help relieve the severe pollution problem," Peng said.

The conference put great importance on ecological safety, while central authorities also promised to focus on the quality of urbanization and to improve the living standards of urban residents, including the expansion of forests, lakes and wetlands in urban areas.

Yi Peng, a researcher from the China Center for Urban Development under the National Development and Reform Commission, said that the urbanization process should be restrained to leave space for more foliage.

The conference also stressed the importance of cutting energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, and increasing the efficiency of energy use, which is a positive step toward reaching the goals set by the State Council in September last year, according to Yi.

The conference stressed the importance of developing urban clusters. Yi believes the strategy will help fight air pollution, which is not confined to a certain region.

"Now the strategy is to concentrate people into several urban clusters and control the overall volume of energy consumption and emissions," Yi said.

This human-centered urbanization model would not simply encourage farmers to swarm into cities, which could put even greater pressure on the environment, as city dwellers emit triple the volume of carbon dioxide as those in the countryside, Yi explained.

"Smog problems suggest a dead end for the traditional urbanization and development model," Wu said. "We have to fundamentally change the economic structure and prompt the development of the service industry."

Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

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