Factories In Two Of China’s Most Polluted Provinces Are Failing At Limiting Their Emissions

This factory in Hebei exceeded emissions limits in 2014, Greenpeace says, adding to China’s air quality issues. CREDIT: COURTESY GREENPEACE
This factory in Hebei exceeded emissions limits in 2014, Greenpeace says, adding to China’s air quality issues. CREDIT: COURTESY GREENPEACE

China’s call for emissions controls from factories are largely being ignored, according to a Greenpeace report.

The report, which looks at state-reported data for Jiangsu and Hebei provinces, shows that heavy industry is not complying with strict emissions standards China set for coal plants in January 2012, as well as standards for industries like steel and iron which were added later that year. The plants had a two-and-a-half-year grace period for compliance. According to the Greenpeace report, up to 85 percent of heavy industry in Jiangsu and Hebei have emissions that exceed the limits set by the 2012 standards.

“If we are to have a chance at breathing clean air in cities like Beijing, then we need these factories to respect the cap and for the government to transition towards clean, renewable energy sources,” Zhang Kai, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said in a press release. “Our findings show that after more than a year since the action plan was initiated, there are widespread problems in actually enforcing the cap on emissions.”

China’s 2012 emissions standards were largely a response to domestic pressure. Chinese activists and media have increasingly rallied for clean air in the rapidly developing nation. China currently gets about two-thirds of its electricity from coal, which contributes more than 40 percent of some types of the country’s pollutants.


Heavy industry sources, such as coal, iron, steel, and cement factories, are responsible for more than 80 percent of emissions in both provinces, according to the Greenpeace report. In Hebei, 30 percent of the factories and power plants surveyed “seriously exceeded” emissions standards. In Jiangsu, which is one of China’s most densely populated provinces, nearly half the plants “seriously exceeded” emissions standards.

The two provinces are among the most polluted areas in China. They also border China’s most populous cities, Shanghai and Beijing, and contribute greatly to urban air quality. Particulate matter in both cities has been found to exceed World Health Organization air quality guidelines.

Air pollution has been linked to 1.2 million premature deaths in China. In one shocking example, doctors blamed air pollution in Jiangsu for a case of lung cancer in an 8-year-old girl in 2013.

There have been some improvements in China’s emissions. By the end of 2014, the country of 1.3 billion had cut its coal consumption for the first time in more than a decade. And last fall, China and the United States reached a carbon emissions agreement in which China committed to getting 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, and to capping its overall carbon dioxide emissions that same year. A recent report also suggested that China could surpass these goals and get 85 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050.

Still, these goals will be impossible without compliance from heavy industrial plants.

“While we welcome how transparently the government is reporting this data, it does paint a bleak picture of what the reality is one the ground,” Zhang said. “We believe that if current emissions are not improved soon, then Jiangsu will find it very difficult to meet its 20 percent emissions reduction target by 2017, and Hebei will also struggle to shake off its reputation as being a heavily polluted province.”