But clearing the skies over China’s capital city, with its vast population, will be a slow process. No one is expecting dramatic improvements, for now.
“On a psychological level, I feel better now that I don’t see any smoke coming from the plant,” says one resident who has lived near the Shijingshan station for nine years. “But I can’t say there’s any immediate improvement in the air quality.”
War on pollution
Beijing’s struggle with deadly air pollution is a complex one. The problem is linked not just to the city’s own pace of economic development and urbanisation – the number of vehicles in Beijing soared from 1.57 million in 2003 to about 5.6 million by the end of 2014 – but also to rapid growth in neighbouring Tianjin and Hebei provinces.
Pollution from their cities drifts into Beijing. Sandstorms originating from the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia also frequently invade the city’s air. Making matters worse, the Chinese capital sits on a plain and is surrounded on three sides by mountains that can trap pollutants for days.
At its worst, the amount of hazardous particulate matter in the air in several Chinese cities has been measured at more than 20 times the safety limits laid down by the World Health Organization. But China is not alone in suffering from heavily polluted air. Some 7 million people globally died from air pollution in 2012, according to the WHO.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has declared a war on pollution. The government is reducing coal consumption, which accounts for two-thirds of China’s energy use, and stepping up the use of cleaner sources of energy, including natural gas and renewables such as solar and wind. For example, China aims to increase the share of natural gas in its total energy consumption from 4% in 2011 to about 8% by the end of 2015 and 10% by 2020.
To curb worsening pollution from vehicles, the Chinese government plans to toughen environmental standards for fuels, promote the use of more fuel-efficient cars, and ban older cars and trucks.
Shell is working with partners in China to help the country meet its demand for cleaner energy. With PetroChina, for example, we are developing natural gas resources at the Changbei field in the north west of the country. We are a major supplier of liquefied natural gas, and have helped bring cleaner power to Chinese cities.