China created a new environmental police force Sunday to stop “illegal” burning in the country’s capital city.
China’s environmental police will crack down on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration and burning wood, according to a statement to state-controlled media by acting Beijing Mayor Cai Qi. The green police will enforce school and business closures on smoggy days, and can cancel plane flights and shutdown highways to reduce pollution.
Beijing and dozens of other large cities in China have routinely exceeded air pollution guidelines from the World Health Organization for months. Last week, more than 20 cities were on “red alert,” the highest warning level in China’s four-tiered system, while Beijing was on the second-highest “orange alert.”
In December, a smog induced miasma left more than 460 million gasping for air across most of northeast China. The country implemented an emergency anti-pollution plan for the 10.7 million who live in the city of Shijiazhuang. School was cancelled due to the pollution. Chinese government officials used emergency plans to shut down factories and take cars off the road to slightly abate the smog.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Joint Program on the Policy of Global Change found that China’s pollution woes are largely due to the country’s reliance on coal power. China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, and is planning to double down on it. Of the 2,400 coal-fired power plants under construction or being planned around the world, 1,171 will be built in China.
MIT scientists recommended that China solve its smog problem by replacing coal power with natural gas. Natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide (CO2) and pollutants of coal power, and is already cheaper than coal in many locations in the U.S. due to fracking.
“Our previous work put an estimate of more than $100 billion in annual costs to the Chinese economy from air pollution impacts,” Dr. Sergey Paltsev, an MIT researcher who coauthored a study on how the country could slash air pollution, said in a press statement. “Developing natural gas infrastructure and promoting natural gas use is an important option to address deteriorated air quality and improve living standards.”
China is working to replace coal with cleaner-burning natural gas. As a first step, the government aims to boost the share of natural gas in its primary energy supply from 6 to 10 percent by 2020. However, China doesn’t have as favorable of geology for natural gas fracking as America, so it may need to import large quantities.
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