China To Send Millions Of Polluting Cars To The Dump

Air pollution and smog clog the sky over China’s capital of Beijing in February 2014. CREDIT: AP PHOTO / ALEXANDER F. YUAN
Air pollution and smog clog the sky over China’s capital of Beijing in February 2014. CREDIT: AP PHOTO / ALEXANDER F. YUAN

In the latest desperate bid to clean up China’s toxic skies, the government announced on Monday that over six million of the country’s oldest, most polluting cars are headed to the dump this year. Vehicles registered before 2005 that don’t meet national emissions standards will be “phased out” over the next year, according to a State Council document detailing emission reduction targets for a range of industries.

Beijing will see about 330,000 vehicles leave the streets, while Shanghai will say good-bye to another 160,000 cars. In the capital city alone, vehicle emissions account for about 31 percent of air pollution. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, nearly eight percent of the cars on China’s roads don’t meet the most basic of emission standards and generate more than 35 percent of the country’s air pollution. China currently has 240 million cars on the roads.

“Strengthening controls 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 action plan stated.

Gas stations in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities are also being called on to switch to selling only the cleanest grades of gasoline and diesel.

This latest move to combat China’s epic air pollution comes after the State Council said the country had already fallen behind on pollution targets for 2011–2013.

According to Shanghai Daily, China officially decommissions just three percent of high-emission vehicles each year, while the rest of the developed world takes eight percent of such cars of the road annually. Even the three percent target may be optimistic, however, as about 60 percent of cars officially scrapped just end up being sold in rural areas.

Recently, China has been forced to confront its record-breaking air pollution and the resultant looming public health catastrophe. The country now has an alert system in every major city to help residents prepare for dangerous smog days and last year the government promised $275 billion over the next five years to combat the problem.  Details on how the millions of cars salted for retirement will be taken off the streets have not yet been made public. Beijing has already experimented with offering subsidies to car owners to voluntarily turn in high-emission vehicles.

Air pollution in major Chinese cities routinely exceeds World Health Organization guidelines for fine particle pollution concentrations. PM2.5, the smallest and dangerous particulate pollution, was recently classified as a carcinogen. Last year, China made headlines when an eight year-old girl became the youngest ever to be diagnosed with lung cancer caused by pollution.