A Smoggy Day in Beijing Town 1

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Thursday, November 6th, 2014
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Beijing Smog
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Your clothes and hair will smell like they’ve been in a bushfire….

Your lungs will feel weighed down by lead.

No matter how many times you brush your teeth, the taste of sulphur will linger.

It’s 8am in Beijing and already the air quality index is topping 215, twice what authorities regard as unsafe. Some estimates say breathing in that air for a day would be the equivalent to smoking between one and 1.5 packs of cigarettes.

An anaemic sun struggles to pierce the heavy smog.

Going outdoors means sporting a face mask.

The more fashion conscious are inclined to go “smog couture”, with an offering from Chanel.

Twelve hours later, the US Embassy’s air pollution monitor doubles to more than 400 – regarded as a hazardous reading.

And at that level recently, thousands of runners competed in the Beijing marathon, some wearing gas masks.

In the Middle Kingdom capital, life goes on.

Coal has powered China’s economic boom and gangbuster growth levels for decades but the status-quo is not sustainable.

The Chinese government knows its people won’t be prepared to endure choking air pollution indefinitely.

In the past, people worried about survival, now they worry about their health.
Medical risks include allergies, asthma, heart and circulation problems, blood pressure and cancer.

In a city with more than 7.5 million vehicles, the roads are restricted to those with an even number plate number one day, and an odd number the following day.

If you want to buy a new car you have to enter a lottery because only 15,000 are allowed to be sold each month.

The country is also bracing for the effects of climate change including threats to water and food security and more natural disasters.

While Australia dilly-dallies on carbon emissions trading, China is charging ahead with a national scheme scheduled to roll out in 2016 and fully functional by 2020.

Already it has seven pilots, including one in Beijing.
China Beijing Environment Exchange vice-president Zhou Cheng says the carbon price is at 50 yuan ($A9.35).

About 400 companies, whose emissions are more than 10,000 tonnes annually, are covered by the scheme.

The companies have access to free permits based on historic emissions from 2009-12 but must cut pollution by two per cent a year or be slapped with fines.

Since the scheme began, there’s been a four per cent drop in emissions.

Unlike Australia, Chinese businesses publicly supporting emissions trading, while holding behind-the-scenes talks with government.

The biggest polluter in Beijing is one of five coal-fired power plants which emits three million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Zhou said the city was looking to shut all its coal plants in two years and would buy power from plants in other provinces, and embark on a transition to natural gas.

Despite this move, Beijing’s reliance on coal-fired power is still expected to increase from its present 70 per cent.

Renewable energy makes up 10 per cent of Beijing’s power and electricity companies see it as another investment opportunity rather than a threat.

China has vowed to reduce its emissions intensity – the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions produced to gross domestic product – by 40-45 per cent by 2020, based on 2005 levels.

But so far there’s no overall goal on emissions reduction.

There’s whispers the world’s biggest carbon emitter will unveil plans for an emissions cap in coming months.

 

BEIJING’S EMISSION TRADING SCHEME PILOT

* Carbon price hovering about 50 yuan ($A9.35)

* If price sinks below 20 yuan for 10 days the government buys permits to ramp up price.

* If price goes above 150 yuan for 10 days the government auctions permits to force price down.

* Captures about 400 big polluters with emissions of more than 10,000 tonnes (half of all Beijing’s emissions)

* Beijing’s biggest emitter is a coal-fired power plant producing three million tonnes of carbon dioxide

* National scheme to be introduced in 2016

By Lisa Martin
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  1. Caroline Dawson

    And this is where Australia's coal exports are mainly headed.