Science-based policymaking mechanism the key to clean air in China

Chinese cities have seen an overall improvement in air quality since the implementation of the Air Pollution Control and Prevention Action Plan. But we are still faced with tremendous challenges in our way to clean air

The 12th China City Air Quality Management Workshop, organized by the Foreign Economic Cooperation Office of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (FECO-MEP) and Clean Air Asia and co-organized by Chengdu Environmental Protection Bureau (Chengdu EPB) in Chengdu from November 15-16, introduced a science-based policy-making mechanism for cities to meet the 2017 air quality targets required by the Air Pollution Control and Prevention Action Plan.

“Chinese cities have seen an overall improvement in air quality since the implementation of the Air Pollution Control and Prevention Action Plan. The mid-term evaluation report of the Action Plan shows a drop in PM2.5 and PM10,” said FECO-MEP Director Tang Yandong. “But we are still faced with tremendous challenges in our way to clean air.”

“To take science-based air pollution-control measures is the key point in our last year of the Air Action Plan,” said Li Yang from the MEP’s Atmospheric Management Department. “The 13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development set the targets of cutting air pollutant concentrations by 18 percent for cities at the prefecture level and above. Yet in the short term, we cannot fundamentally change our industrial and energy structure, and we must promote science-based air pollution prevention.”

Professor He Kebin, Dean of the School of Environment at Tsinghua University, stressed the need for top-level design to be strengthened: “We should establish a science-based supporting system with the pattern of ‘analysis, decision-making, implementation, assessment, optimization’, reinforce the development of an air pollution monitoring network, a dynamic source inventory and capacity building of air quality forecasting.”

“In the past two years, more and more local environmental protection departments have raised the question of how to design a science-based air quality control policy. This workshop is designed to strengthen cities’ capacity to establish such a mechanism,” said Clean Air Asia China Director Dr Fu Lu.

The roadmap is clear

Professor He Kebin said the introduction of a dynamic regulating platform for regional air quality would enable air quality improvements to be quantified, providing technical support for the forecasting of and precautions about regional air quality, the formulation and evaluation of heavy pollution emergency plans, and air quality attainment planning. “All this work is based on a detailed emissions inventory, otherwise ‘science-based decision-making’ won’t make sense,” he said,

Foreign experts shared the successes of Los Angeles, Mexico City and Europe in developing emissions inventories and regional coordination mechanisms through the application of scientific supporting systems.

Dr Markus Amann, Program Director of the Air Quality and Greenhouse Gases (AIR) Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, said transboundary PM2.5 pollution was a big problem in Europe, resembling the regional pollution movement between provinces in China. Regions were only able to achieve mutual benefits when they shared responsibilities.

The Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta, where air pollution prevention practices have been enacted, have more experience than other cities. During the workshop, experts from Shanghai and Guangdong presented on the science-based system. “The science-based system in the Yangtze River Delta consists of routine and online monitoring, data-sharing, super station networking and regional photochemical ozone monitoring. This data plays an important role in the guidance of emissions reductions,” said Dr Yusen Duan, Senior Engineer at the Shanghai Environment Monitoring Center.

“We’ve been exploiting the air quality management knowledge hub to support science-based policymaking of local environmental protection departments. Advanced experiences are available on the platform. Users can also receive professional advice on air pollution control from the help desk,” Dr Fu Lu said.

Challenges along the way

A roundtable discussion involving more than 150 local environmental protection staff demonstrated that the progress of science-based systems varied by region. Beijing, Shanghai and Pearl River Delta made an early start to source apportionment and measure assessment; others still faced a lack of technology.

The Chengdu-Chongqing City Cluster group said that as a capital city, Chengdu enjoyed such privileges as favorable funding and scientific support, and hence was advanced in its emissions inventory and source apportionment. However, other smaller cities were unable to keep pace, limited by economic and regional factors. A representative from Benxi in Liaoning Province said the lack of essential data meant they were unable to have precise forecasts of heavy pollution.

Most groups said ozone, for which the generative mechanism and precursor VOCs were intricate and unclear, had become a new air pollution problem in urgent need of central government guidance.

Participants from Hebei Province said that, with support from Tsinghua University, the dynamic regulating platform for Hebei air pollution prevention enabled grid monitoring and facilitated problem solving despite limited human resources. However, they also said Hebei did everything it could in terms of end-of-pipe treatment. To further reduce pollutant concentrations, Hebei should embark on industrial restructuring and develop long-range plans. Coordination between departments and regional cooperation also needed to be reinforced.