China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has launched a massive crackdown on polluting industries, and even on officials suspected of protecting violators of environment law. The move came within weeks of Chinese President Xi Jinping promising to drastically cut down emissions at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris in mid December.
The Chinese Supreme Court this month slapped the highest penalty ever when it ordered a company in Jiangsu province to pay a file of $26 million. The company was asked to compensate the local municipal body in Taizhou city for discharging 25,000 metric tons of waste acids in two different rivers.
The government followed up the move by creating its first high-level environmental protection inspection team with the purpose of intensifying the crackdown on law violators. The new inspectors are being given tremendous powers that are equal to those given to anti-corruption sleuths, who have sent hundreds of senior officials to jail in the past two years.
The pollution control inspectors have been authorized to investigate provincial and municipal officials who fail to penalize polluters. The move comes in the wake of complaints that provincial officials turn a blind eye to the acts of major polluting industries because they contribute to the local economy.
China is also cutting down coal production, and begun reducing its dependence on coal in order to bring down pollution levels. It is a difficult decision for the government because coal industry employs over seven million people. Several coal companies have already begun retrenching workers in large numbers.
“The government is faced with a serious dilemma. It needs to cut down pollution. But implementing strict environmental controls will have a very serious effect on the economy and on employment,” Chen Wei Dong, senior economist at CNOOC Energy Economics Institute of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, told ENR.
Reducing coal use also signals an aggressive growth in the construction of dams for hydroelectricity generation, and a further push to other renewal energy sources like solar and wind power, analysts said.
Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun declared that the municipal government will close down 2,500 polluting industries in and around the city. The government also rejected applications from 13,000 promoters who sought permission to establish new factories on the ground of pollution.
In Shanghai, local authorities recently ordered 2,000 companies in the petrochemical and paint industries to introduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their emissions. They also unveiled a 5-year plan that involves closing down over 3,000 heavy-polluting enterprises.
The city’s environment protection bureau investigated 2,590 cases of law violations in 2015, which was a 34 percent jump over 2014 figures.
Chinese government is shaken by the rise in choking levels of pollution in most of the major cities.
In December 2015, the government imposed “red alert,” which is the highest level of pollution warning, as PM2.5—tiny particles that penetrate lungs-- crossed 500 per cubic meter of air, which is 25 times higher than the level specified by the World Health Organization.
These particles, which are attributed to coal use, can lead to asthma and bronchitis besides exacerbating other acute respiratory and heart diseases.
A recent survey conducted by physicists from the University of California estimated that 1.6 million people die annually from diseases related to air pollution in China. This amounts to 4,000 deaths each day. China, the world’s most populated country, has 1.4 billion people.
A section of the industry is supporting the government campaign to reduce emissions although it can have a serious affect on profitability of certain kinds of businesses.
“The economic and social sacrifices will be even greater if China does not reduce its energy intensity upon which its dependency on coal consumption plays a huge part,” said Adam Dunnett, secretary general of the European Chamber of Commerce in China.
The government’s campaign to protect the environment has begun to affect senior politicians as well. A former deputy environment minister, Zhang Lijun, has been put under probe for abuse of power and taking bribes. Zhang, who was a deputy minister until 2013, has been accused of showing favors to some polluting companies instead of taking action against them.
Chinese government’s think-tank, Energy Resource Institute (ERI), is batting strongly in favor of renewal energy.
In a recent report, ERI said it is possible to reverse the energy mix so that renewal energy contribute 86 percent of the country’s needs by 2050. At present, nearly 70 percent of China’s energy requirements are fed by coal.
Hydropower can replace coal by providing a base-load power. Researchers also emphasize the need for better grid management to switch the supply of electricity on and off according to requirements thus saving a lot of energy. Three ultra high voltage direct current (UHV-DC) lines are under construction in China.
They will be capable cutting down power losses by transmitting over long distances in an efficient and safe manner.
Besides, China recently connected the world’s largest solar-hydro hybrid station built on the Tibetan plateau to the national grid.
In 2015, China eclipsed the United States to become the world’s biggest producer of wind power. It now accounts for 46 percent of the wind power capacity in the world.
The U.S. added a mere 8.6 MW in 2015.