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Heavy Pollution Weather Research Highlights Coal Control in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei

Three grantees hold the final review meeting on April 28, 2023, of their joint research on a coordinated control pathway to eliminate heavy air pollution days in the greater Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. Photo by Tsinghua University

On April 28th, with the support of Energy Foundation China, Tsinghua University, the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning, and the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences held the final review meeting of their joint research on a coordinated control pathway to eliminate heavy air pollution days in the greater Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. This project lasted for one and a half years, and aimed at providing technical support for synergic air quality improvement and carbon reduction in the region that has suffered from smog for a few decades. Experts present at the meeting included Li Wei, Director-General of the Department of Atmospheric Environment of China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Zou Ji, CEO and President of Energy Foundation China, He Kebin, Project General Counsel and Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and He Hong, Academician of the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Through an analysis of the industrial structure, energy consumption, and emission reduction potential of various industries in the greater Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the project team compiled a high-resolution emission inventory that integrated air and carbon emissions. They also set Beijing as the pilot city, delineated joint control areas in the region for autumn and winter, and identified differentiated control levels. For industries with high energy consumption, the research team established an environmental performance evaluation system for their entire production processes, as well as differentiated enterprise control plans for heavy pollution early warning and emergency periods. Focused on the requirements for eliminating heavy pollution days, the researchers later formulated a mitigation pathway that prioritizes coal control. They found that through measures such as reducing the share of fossil energy consumption, optimizing the industrial structure, and replacing scattered coal use with clean energy in rural areas, 77 million tonnes of coal would be reduced from 2021 to 2025. Moreover, their analysis showed that the coordinated emission reduction pathway would have significant health benefits in average weather conditions, with a reduced premature death of 370 people/month, 82% lower than the scenario that implies emission reductions are not coordinated. The socio-economic impacts and health benefits brought by the elimination of heavy pollution days in the greater Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region in autumn and winter during the 14th Five-Year Plan period of 2021 to 2025 would be greater than the economic costs of mitigation, according to the researchers, who also proposed to optimize the pollution control measures, establish a mechanism for analyzing the socio-economic impacts of major environmental policies, and set up compensation, subsidy, and preferential policies for enterprises and owners who stop or limit production in heavy pollution days.

Director-General Li Wei said that, with the support of Energy Foundation China, this project provided scientific evidence for air quality control during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. He suggested summarizing the experiences of existing measures for heavy pollution days control in the region and forming a coping strategy with continuous mitigation and low economic impact, which could be learned by other air polluted regions such as the Fenhe-Weihe Plains.

Zou Ji pointed out that case studies for key regions and high-profile events would have great social, scientific, technological, and oversight significance in eliminating heavy pollution days. The project team helped address the issue of local emissions and cross-regional transmission under complex circumstances, he said. The implementation pathway, transition process, and policy tools of this project would not only help eliminate heavy pollution days during the 14th Five-Year Plan period, but also provide evidence for more coordinated, systematic solutions for continuously improving air quality in the longer term, according to him.

For the highlights of the research, Professor He Kebin said that this project integrated elements such as continuous and contingency emission reductions, coordinated carbon and criteria pollution mitigation, socio-economic impacts, and health benefits into the pathway of eliminating heavy air pollution days, and considered how to combine different perspectives: short-term versus long-term strategy, criteria pollution control versus synergetic carbon and pollution mitigation, and technology solutions versus comprehensive socio-economic considerations. In the future, more research should be conducted to refine the pathway to achieve the synergy of pollution reduction, carbon mitigation, and economic growth, he said.

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