On Friday, Shanghai released its Clean Air Action Plan in an effort to rapidly and substantially improve the air quality in China’s most populous city of nearly 24 million residents. The primary focus is to reduce the concentration of PM2.5 (particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less) by around 20 percent from 2012 levels by 2017.
The plan, which broadly targets six areas — energy, industry, transportation, construction, agriculture, and social life — will completely ban coal burning in 2017. This entails closing down more than 2,500 boilers and 300 industrial furnaces that use coal, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015.
“The frequency of heavy pollution will be significantly reduced by 2017. The air quality will better meet residents’ expectations as well as the general qualifications of building an international metropolis,” Wu Qizhou, deputy director of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau, told Chinese Daily.
According to Wu, the development and utilization of renewable energy technologies and the distribution of natural gas will both be accelerated as well.
The city will also establish a green traffic system that prioritizes public transportation, with the goal of raising public transportation use in downtown districts to fifty percent by 2015.
The plan’s release comes on the heels of an especially crippling spell of smoggy days in northern China that caused schools, roads, and airports to close with visibility dropping to as little as 50 yards in some area. The PM2.5 index reached 1,000 in some parts of the northeastern capital city of Harbin, far above the 300 which is considered hazardous and the WHO-recommended daily level of no more than 20.
It was the first time PM2.5 readings have hit 1,000 since China began releasing data on PM2.5 in January 2012.
Today China’s Health Ministry announced China will begin measuring not just PM2.5 concentrations, but also the long-term impacts of chronic air pollution on human health, according to state media.
“The evaluation will be based on the integrated and long-term analysis of PM2.5 data, weather information and cases of local residents’ diseases and deaths,” the state media release said.
Earlier this year a study found that severe pollution has slashed an average of five-and-a-half years from the life expectancy in northern China as toxic air has led to higher rates of stroke, heart disease, and cancer.
China has been making a very public push to confront growing concern over air pollution, including publishing a list of its 10 worst — and best — cities for air pollution each month.
China also released a new $817 billion plan to fight air pollution in September, with a strong focus on Beijing. According to a Greenpeace analysis, up to seventy percent of Beijing’s pollution comes from coal-burning factories and power plants surrounding the city.
China is also currently in the early stages of testing pilot carbon markets in seven cities, including Shanghai and Beijing. The pilot programs will help the government make a decision about setting up a national carbon market in the near future.
“Progress will depend on the government’s determination,” said Lin Boqiang, an energy economist at Xiamen University, told the Financial Times about the carbon markets. “The question is what impact it will have on the market — unlike other commodities, for example when you buy oil you get oil, here you spend money and the only thing you get is a contribution to the global climate.”
If carbon markets and air pollution plans aren’t enough to clear the air and alleviate public discontent, a Dutch artist recently came up with the idea of sucking up smog through a giant electromagnetic vacuum cleaner.
Daan Roosegaarde designed a system that can attract airborne particles with an electrostatic field. “It’s like when you have a balloon which has static (electricity) and your hair goes toward it. Same with the smog,” he told CNN.
Roosegaarde told CNN he wants to take a Beijing park and make it the cleanest park in the city. He recently made an agreement with Beijing’s mayor to test the project, and hopes to have it ready to launch within nine months.
Unfortunately for China, even Roosegaarde acknowledges that his installation is more a way of bringing attention to the pollution problem ailing China rather than a viable solution — as if the smog itself wasn’t enough of an attention-grabber.