restricted access 1. Atmospheric Environment in China: Introduction and Research Review
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1 Atmospheric Environment in China: Introduction and Research Review Chris P. Nielsen and Mun S. Ho 1.1 Introduction With each passing year, the future of the global environment becomes more affected by policy choices that China is making regarding its economy, use of energy, and atmospheric environment. Other nations further along the development path bear greater historical responsibility for the atmospheric loading of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that drive global climate change: the United States has emitted far more than China in cumulative terms, and many countries have larger per capita emissions . China’s sheer size, rate of economic growth, and dependence on fossil fuels, however, have vaulted it far into the forefront in current national emissions of the dominant GHG, carbon dioxide (CO2). One authoritative source estimates that of the 33.9 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 emitted globally in 2011, China contributed 9.70, while the second-ranking United States emitted 5.42 (Olivier et al. 2012). There is little to suggest, moreover, that China’s rising share of world CO2 emissions will stabilize anytime soon, let alone decline. International strategies to constrain the world’s carbon trajectory must be equitable to all countries given their differing development stages. Many have also noted that China’s emissions are due in part to its production of goods that are exported to other countries, and hence world consumption is ultimately responsible for a portion of its growing emissions. But regardless of how we assign the causes, and thus the burden of paying for mitigation, it is inescapable that China must play a central role if global GHG control strategies are to be effective. At the same time, China’s domestic air quality is severely and persistently degraded, especially in densely urbanized regions of the country. Even as concentrations of a few key “primary” pollutants—those emitted directly from sources, such as large particulates and sulfur dioxide—have been successfully reduced, China 4 Chapter 1 increasingly suffers the more complex air quality hazards of advanced economies. These are caused more by “secondary” pollutants, those formed chemically in the air from precursor gases, notably ozone and a large share of the particulate matter small enough to penetrate deeply into human lungs (i.e., less than 2.5 microns in diameter, termed PM2.5). These conditions are exacerbated in part by exploding vehicle populations, which now clog China’s heavily congested cities and have joined power plants and other coal-burning sources as the leading contributors to China’s worst air pollution hazards. However intractable China’s atmospheric environmental challenges seem, its government deserves credit for trying energetically to respond over the last decade. China has pursued a raft of policies that target both fossil fuel use and atmospheric emissions, some major examples of which are useful to recount. In 2004, China enacted fuel economy standards for new cars that exceeded those of many much richer nations, including the United States, and it has been implementing phased vehicle emission standards modeled directly on those of the European Union (Oliver et al. 2009). The 2006–2010 11th Five-Year Plan (11th FYP) set targets for reducing the energy intensity of the economy by 20% and reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide by 10%, which were then followed by implementing mandates backed by newly vigorous enforcement mechanisms. In 2007, major energy plans launched breakneck development of hydroelectric, wind, nuclear, and other nonfossil electric power generation, driven by ambitious capacity targets for the year 2020 (NDRC 2007). Around this time, massive investments were made to relocate industries, upgrade pollution controls, and otherwise manage emissions to improve air quality in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, also as a test case for other Chinese cities. In late 2009, China unilaterally committed to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy 40–45% by 2020, compared to the 2005 level. The 12th Five-Year Plan has recommitted to these general aims, with targets for 2015 in carbon intensity (−17% compared to 2010), energy intensity (−16%), emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2, −8%) and nitrogen oxides (NOX, −10%), and in the nonfossil share of total primary energy supply (11.4%). While broad and ambitious, this program has produced only mixed results. Many of the individual elements have been successful judged by the narrow targets that motivated them, and indeed some of these successes may be historic given the scale of their effects and compared to earlier efforts that failed.1 The 11th FYP successfully reversed a rise in energy intensity in the...


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Subject Headings

  • Economic development -- China.
  • China -- Economic policy -- 2000-.
  • Environmental policy -- China.
  • Climatic changes -- Government policy -- China.
  • Air quality -- China.
  • Air -- Pollution -- China.
  • Economic development -- Environmental aspects -- China.
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