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PAM 3570 Policy Paper
Air Pollution

Air Pollution in Beijing and Future Policy Implications

By Amy Zhang

I. Introduction
In recent years, China has experienced a rapid expansion in economic and industrial
developments. These expansions consequently lead to tremendous increases in energy
consumption, emissions of air pollutants and an incursion of the number of poor air quality days
in mega cities such as the capital of Beijing. The capital struggles under the heavy burden of air
pollution; unfortunately, its high levels of humidity also suppress the uplifting of the lower-
troposphere. As a result, Beijing experiences episodes of high concentrations of secondary
pollutants.3 From the late 1980s to the year 2000, the air quality in Beijing has gotten
progressively worse (figure 1). After unprecedented levels of pollution in 2012, the central
government enacted the National Air Pollution Action Plan. The central theme for this policy is
to cut back on coal use in large metropolitan cities. Pollution is being pushed to a top priority
environmental issue as its impacts become increasingly more visible.

Currently, Beijing, Shanghai, and the Pearl River Delta are the most economically vibrant
regions in China, together accounting for approximately 20 percent of the countrys total GDP.6
Unfortunately, recent economic slowdowns and a recession have created new challenges for anti-
pollution activists. In addition, the government in China is highly decentralized. Local and
provincial authorities may not approve the enforcement of one policy.13 Thus, the economic
slowdown causes further hesitation as it becomes harder to convince society to invest in reducing
air-pollution, an investment that would require short-term sacrifice and only see gains in the long
run. This paper reviews the current state or air pollution in Beijing, evaluates the effectiveness
Chinas Action Plan on Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution (the Action Plan),
and performs a comparative analysis between the Action Plan and the United States Clean Air

II. Background
Since 1978, urbanization has been occurring on a large scale. Increasing numbers of workers
have migrated from the rural countryside of China and moved to large and developed cities for
better job opportunities.6 The number of cities increased to over 660 with approximately one
million residents.6 Megacities become economic hubs with Beijing becoming the center of
politics, economics, and industry. This prompted more people to move to the capital resulting in
air pollution with profound implications on future development. Two primary contributors to air
pollution in Beijing are as follows:

Coal and Traffic: According to estimates by Greenpeace, coal consumption is responsible for
almost half of the countrys PM2.5 pollution. This refers to particles with an aerodynamic
diameter of less than 2.5 m.12 The reason PM pollution is hazardous is because these particulate
matter are capable of being trapped in the lungs and even smaller particles may travel into the
bloodstream and enter the brain, figure 2.13 Efforts to reduce coal consumption has been mixed
although milestones have been achieved, such as Beijing ending the use of coal to heat homes.14
However, new coal-fired power plants are still being built and investments in building these new
plants have jumped 28 percent in 2015. Traffic congestion is also worthy of mention. Large
delivery trucks are heavy contributors to pollution.14

Surrounding Provinces: The province of Hebei surrounds Beijing and has recently been ranked
seven of the top ten most polluted cities in China. Hebei is a large producer of the steel and much
of the smog as a result of production diffuses into Beijing. The policy implications become
increasing more complicated as cities such as Hebei heavily depend on steel production to
remain economically viable. Cutting steel production leads to a direct loss of jobs for thousands
of residents.

As air pollution remains at exceptionally high levels, public health concerns have been raised,
resulting in tremendous pressure for the government to cut down on main drivers of pollution
emission; 92 percent of Chinese cities fail to meet national ambient air quality standard.12 The
hazardous chemicals that escape into the air have been scientifically linked to both acute and

chronic effects on human health. Associated health complications range from respiratory
irritation to chronic respiratory and heart disease, lung cancer, and asthmatic attacks.6

III. Relevant Law and Policy

The State Council issued the Action Plan on Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution
on September 10, 2013. The aim of the plan is to improve Chinas air quality within five years,
along with alleviating high smog levels.7 The policy targets the megacities, and sets two main
goals: (1) decrease concentrations of large particulate matters, PM10, in major cities by 10
percent. (2) decrease concentrations of fine particulate matter, PM2.5, in targeted regions by 25
percent. Table 1 summarizes the annual average concentration improvement targets of annual
average concentration PM10 and PM2.5, used as an indicator for air quality improvement, for
targeted areas of the policy. To achieve these two goals, the Action Plan contains ten sections
and includes the strictest air pollution controls to ever have been adopted in China.6 Each section
addresses a specific problem that hopes to solve a particular issue.7 These sections will be
summarized briefly below from the Country Report: the Peoples Republic of China.

Section 1: Increase the effect of holistic control, reduce multi-pollutants emissions. This
will be done by regulating the use of small coal-fired boilers, controlling urban dusts,
eliminating high polluting vehicles, and improving the quality of fuels.
Section 2: Optimize industrial structure, promote industrial upgrading and restructure.
This introduces measures to regulate new capacities in high-energy consumption and halt
illegal production projects for industries who are overproducing.
Section 3: Improve innovation capability through strengthening scientific and
technological development and fostering energy saving and environmental protection
Section 4: Accelerate the adjustment of the energy structure and promote the use of a
clean energy supply. This section calls for the limitation of overall coal consumption, and
accelerate the conversation of coal to clean energy sources such as natural gas or coal-
based methane.
Section 5: Regulate industry actions. This implies that projects that are not passed
environmental impact assessments will not be approved for construction.

Section 6: Elaborate the role of the market to improve environmental policies.

Section 7: Create stricter enforcements of existing environmental protection laws through
the possibility to casting criminal penalties for those who cause excessive pollution as
well as strictly implementing environmental disclosure requirements. This is a
reoccurring problem. Laws are passed yet enforcement is weak and there are no
consequences; compliance is low.
Section 8: Establish Regional Corporation so that collaboration towards clean air takes
place. This section is important for the previously mentioned problem with Hebeis steel
Section 9: Establish a tracking and warning system. This will allow for a better way to
cope with heavy pollution weather. This section requires limiting production and over
motor vehicle use. It also calls for temporary closure of primary and secondary schools
during days of hazardous levels of pollution.
Section 10: Rouse public participation and clearly delineate the responsibilities of the
government and of society. This section allocates air pollution responsibility to local

Some changes prompted by the plan have lead to positive outcomes. However, other sections,
such as section 10, have not been effective due to external complications and the
interconnectedness of environmental policies and the economy. Moreover, the lack of
cooperation of local, state, and central government is proving to be a major complication. This
paper examines the effectiveness of the Action Plan in comparison to the United States Clean
Air Act 1990. The primary goal of the Clean Air Act is to phase-out ozone-depleting chemicals.11
The Clean Air Act contains several themes that make up its framework:
Encourages use of market-based principles and novel approaches.
Provides a framework, which encourages the use of alternative fuels by determining the
most cost-effective combination of fuels and technology.
Promotes the use of clean, low-sulfur coal to prevent acid rain.
Reduces energy waste and creates a market of clean fuels in order to cut dependency on
oil imports by one million barrels per day.

Promotes energy conservation through environmental protection programs, which

encourage customers to conserve energy.
These two policies are among the largest and most extensive in the realm of air pollution
reduction, which makes for an appropriate comparative analysis.

IV. Performance Evaluation and Challenges:

In 2015, the Clean Air Alliance of China (CAAC) published the formal China Air quality
Management Assessment Report. After the implementation of the Action Plan in 2013, the
CAAC announced its major findings. First, from 2013 to 2014, the air quality in China had
improvement significantly. Second, the average PM2.5 target areas decreased significantly from
2013 across ten major provinces including Beijing, Hebei, Pearl River Delta. The provinces with
the highest level of the six major pollutants, known as the Jing-Jin-Ji regions (Beijing, Tianjin,
and Hebei), published evidence that their annual average for NO2 concentrations exceeded upper
limits of the Ambient Air Quality Standards. Third, the central government and local standards
have improvement dramatically. There has been progress made in monitoring systems and
enforcing policies, such as fines and administrative penalties.15

A further analysis of PM2.5 shows that the average reduction across ten major target areas was
11.92 percent. Unfortunately, Beijing experienced the lowest reduction of the ten cities with only
a 4 percent reduction, which may be due to Beijings location and humidity conditions. These
statistics are still far from the goal of a 25 percent reduction. Analysis of PM10 shows that 20
provinces failed to meet standards, 10 provinces lowered their PM10 concentrations. What is
unsettling is that PM10 concentrations in 10 provinces increased. This shows a possible policy
flaw in the Action Plan. As previously mentioned, the unexpected economic slowdown is a
challenge that is proving to make implementation of the Action Plan difficult. There must remain
competition and economic growth in order to bring about jobs to accommodate for the influx of
people into megacities in pursuit of job opportunities. The shift in level of PM10 concentration
shows demand may have remained the same. Emissions from industries may simply have shifted
from areas that began to implement stricter air pollution laws under the Action Plan to areas that
are still reluctant to lay a heavy hand down on their industrial production. As production
decreased in areas that implemented strict policies, areas with more lenient policies may have

seen an opening in the market to produce more to accommodate for demand. From this
externality, the major problem of the Action Plan becomes apparent: understanding and equal
participation. Successful implementation requires coordinated effort and cooperation from the
national, provincial, municipal, and public level.7 Section 10 of the Action Plan vests local
governments with the responsibility for air quality within their districts. Without the cooperation
of these local governments and their people, reductions of air pollution will unlikely see any
significant decrease.

Another problem is the lack of investment and efforts to increase the popularity of clean energy
sources. China adopts a rather non-participatory approach to air quality control, a term that is
coined as authoritarian environmentalism.4 The outcome of such an approach means that there
is high dependency of the weight the environmental protection policy has with local and central
political leaders. Efforts to increase popularity of energy sources such as low sulfur coal or
natural gas may be an imperative first step in getting the compliance of local governments.
Demand for coal must be decreased, because local governments will consistently prioritize their
economies over long-term air quality.

Public education is also worth mentioning. Environmental policies require a holistic effort for a
long period of time and must depend of the understanding of the public. Effective participation
requires access to relevant information.7 Air quality monitoring data needs to be made relevant to
the public. The government must also clearly tell its people what they can do and how they can
help. The Action Plan requires compliance on a micro-level, otherwise no level of government or
any level of implementation can be successful.

Comparative Analysis:
This section will compare the effectiveness of the Action Plan and the Clean Air Act (CAA) in
the cities of Beijing in China and Los Angeles in the United States respectively. The city of Los
Angeles is ranked fourth among the highest in year round particle pollution of cities in the
United States.2 Furthermore, both areas are dense population centers and possess many similar
aspects of deteriorating air quality.4 Because the CAA has led to more stringent air quality
standards Los Angeles, examination of outcomes, particularity in employment implications, may

be beneficial for Chinese megacities that have yet to set stringent standards. Major similarities
and differences along with employment implications between policies are as follows:

Employment: Titles VIII-XI of the CAA contain policy implementations that the Action Plan is
urgently missing. These titles establish miscellaneous provisions, of which includes provisions
for business concerns and assistance for people who lose their jobs as a result of the CAA.10
Emphasized previously, a big flaw in the Action Plan is the reluctance for participation due to
the impending loss of jobs that may be inevitable after compliance to pollution regulation.
Exacerbating the issue is Chinas economic slow-down that has diverted funds from clean energy
and energy efficiency research and innovation. Chinas state council order for the closing of
58,000 coal mines led to the loss of approximately 2 million jobs.4 Contrarily, stringent air
quality did not depress job growth in the Los Angeles region; it has created more employment
opportunities was well as foster competitiveness.4

Regulation: Both policies allocate a large portion of efforts to regulation. However, the Action
Plan seems to be more focused on industrial expansion. Section two of the policy promotes the
upgrading and growth of structure. Section three calls for the scientific innovation. The CAA
contains specificity that is not found in the Action Plan such as establishing a list of 189
hazardous air pollutants to be regulated.10 This may be a better approach for air pollution policy
because the specificity will provide better focus and catalyze more action plans.

Good and Bad Neighbor Provision: Additional amendments to the CAA requires each state
to have standards in its air quality control plan that prohibits any activity that will lead to
transportation of pollution that may influence the air quality standards of another state.6 The
Action Plan fails to account for such circumstances, which may be necessary given the current
relationship between Hebei and Beijing.

Cooperation: When states are not able to come to an agreement on a final policy option to
collectively adopt, the EPA takes a lead role in developing a program that is applicable to that
group of states.6 The Action Plan is not becoming an effort that is being taken on by all regions.

No policy is without its weaknesses. Though the analysis carried on in this paper, several
recommendations can be made for both the Action Plan and the CAA.

China should adopt a stronger regional program to ensure that the fight for better air quality is a
collective effort. Regional planning centers show facilitated coordination among provincial and
municipal air officials through data presentation, education, and training. The effectiveness of
the Action Plan is dependent on a well-funded and compliance program.6 This compliance must
ring through all levels of administration.

More funding needs to go into alternative energy research. Energy alternatives will provide job
opportunities for those who lose their jobs due to the shut down of coal mines. It is imperative to
give the citizens as well as officials a reason to adopt more stringent air quality standards.
Regional governments will remain hesitant if they cannot see an alternative, and this reluctance
will only impede Chinas fight for better air quality.
The CAA is also not without its weaknesses. It has several loopholes that have subjected the act
to perform on a standard lower than its full capability. A major loophole is that the during the
1970 CAA amendments, congress believed that most of the industrys older coal plants would
retire within 20 to 30 years.5 In response, Congress exempted these coal plants from the tighter
emissions regulations. Unfortunately, many of these old coal plants have not been replaced by
newer power plants. Presently, they are not required to operate under the same restrictions as
new power plants; many of these power plants are up to ten times dirtier than new plants. The
old coal and old plants must be held to the same standards as new plants. Massachusetts has seen
some reform through regulations signed in 2001, but efforts to level the playing field and hold
the same level of accountability still have been dismal.5

The Action Plan is Chinas most comprehensive air pollution policy. And although the breadth
of the policy is comprehensive and sets out implement full revamping, implementation has been
difficult. Significant gains in air quality have been made, and coal production has decreased in
the past decade; although, the efforts have been slower than anticipated. In 2014, Chinas overall

air quality improved significantly. Yet, the Jing-Jin-Ji region still has the highest concentrations
of air pollution, implying a need for more high quality air control. Cooperation has yet to reach a
level that allows for this policy to see its full potential. China is currently going through a
revision process for their Environmental Protection Law. These revisions may patch some of the
weaknesses found in the Action Plan. China has been struggling with its fight against air
pollution, but there is a silver lining. Policies such as the Action Plan on Prevention and Control
of Atmospheric Pollution are a step in the right direction.


1. "1990 Clean Air Act Amendment Summary." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency.
Web. 14 May 2016.

2. "American Lung Association State of the Air 2013 - Most Polluted Cities."State of the Air
2013. American Lung Association. Web. 14 May 2016.

3. Chan, Chak K., and Xiaohong Yao. "Air Pollution in Mega Cities in China."Atmospheric
Environment 42.1 (2008): 1-42. Web.

4. Guo, Dong, Satyajit Bose, and Kristina Alnes. "Employment Implications of Stricter
Pollution Regulation in China: Theories and Lessons from the USA." Environ Dev
Sustain Environment, Development and Sustainability(2015). Web.

5. "HealthLink." HealthLink. HealthLink. Web. 14 May 2016

6. Kampa, Marilena, and Elias Castanas. "Human Health Effects of Air

Pollution." Environmental Pollution 151.2 (2008): 362-67. Web.

7. "Performance Evaluation on the Action Plan of Air Pollution Prevention and Control and
Regional Coordination Mechanism." CCICED Special Policy Study Report. China
Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, Dec. 2014.

8. Ruohong, Fan. "Misalignment of Energy Goals Fuels Appetite for Coal." Dec. 2015. Web.

9. "Summary of the Clean Air Act." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 14 May

10. The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act, 1990 to 2010: EPA Report to Congress.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation,
1999. Print.

11. "The Clean Air Act and the Economy." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 14
May 2016.

12. "The End of China's Coal Boom." Issuu. Greenpeace East Asia, Apr. 2014. Web. 14 May

13. "What Is China Doing to Tackle Its Air Pollution? - BBC News." BBC News. 20 Jan. 2016.
Web. 14 May 2016.

14. "Why Is the Pollution So Bad in Beijing?" Priceonomics. Web. 14 May 2016.

15. Xie, Tonny, Lisha Wang, Xuan Ling, and Xin Shen. "China Air Quality Management
Assessment Report." (2011). Clean Air Alliance of China. Web.


Figure 1: Beijing Air Quality

Source: US Embassy, Beijing

Figure 2: Particulate Matter Size Comparison

Source: BBC

Table 1: Target Decrease for PM by Province

Source: CCICED Special Policy Study Report