Green Necklace to Fight Pollution in Beijing

Source of Image: WIKI

By Francesco Palumbo

Despite the fact that some statistics point to minute improvements, China’s pollution rates are very high and still among the worst on the planet. Some studies by the University of California find that air pollution in China causes 4000 deaths per day. The Chinese government has already tried to fight this problem in different ways, such as investing in renewable energies or fining the companies that pollute most, however the results are not significant.

One of the most polluted areas is the Hebei province, located in North China. This province surrounds Beijing and widely contributes to the smog and thick fog in the Chinese capital because of the high concentration of coal-powered factories. The solution proposed by Hebei Province officials is to plant a “green necklace” of trees surrounding Beijing in order to protect the smog-hit city from excessive pollution. According to some studies, this “necklace” could really help to fight smog emissions. In fact, by intercepting particles that are already in the air, trees can reduce the smog and also lower air temperature.

The provincial government announced the “green necklace” plan on its website on Thursday, March 23rd. The measure aims to raise forest coverage, spread ecological areas and establish tree belts around Beijing by using rivers, reservoirs, wetlands and farmland. One problem however is that in Beijing there is a lack of water as the city is characterized by chronic drought. The Hebei government aim to meet these water needs by transforming the Zhuozhou city into a “sponge city”. In fact, this little city bordering Beijing to the north, will help collect and recycle water, and thus will help to fight the Beijing area’s drought. One of the other strong points of this plan is the creation of “ventilation corridors” that will be necessary to disperse the smog by channelling the wind. The Hebei government planned to create five great ventilation corridors (and further narrower passages) that will run through the city, improving air circulation. This is very important for Beijing, considering that the wind is one of the main reasons for the spread of smog through the Chinese capital.

A further important aim is to tackle the issue known as “big city syndrome”, which is the rapid growth resulting in an over-population and over-development of a city. This cross-regional plan seeks to reduce urban development on the borders of Beijing and curb the unsustainably rapid growth in population (now, Beijing is home to 22 million people). One other important measure is to relocate some industries and “non-capital functions” out of Hebei to curb emissions and pollution. Furthermore, a limit on coal consumption is stated in the plan. Currently, the timeline and costs of the project are not clear.

Now, everyone must wait to see if these measures will have positive effects on the air pollution and on the hazardous smog in the Chinese capital city. Another aspect that we must consider is whether everyone agrees with the implementation of the “green necklace plan”. For example, China Science Daily (in English, Science Times) published on its website an article that does not support at all the measure proposed by the provincial government of Hebei. According to this scientific article, building this chain of trees will contribute to the accumulation of smog in Beijing, as declining wind strength is one of the main causes of this unpleasant phenomenon. So, setting this “green necklace” up, in China Science Daily’s opinion, would not only be unnecessary but would even exacerbate the situation. Furthermore, tree planting projects like this have been implemented before in other areas of China in an attempt to solve environmental problems, but no considerable results have been achieved. In Inner Mongolia, for instance, many trees have been planted to curb the Gobi Desert expansion, but the desert continued to expand in some areas and the real results of this tree planting plan are still debated and challenged by some scientists.

“Cutting Hebei steel emissions would be both cheaper and faster, but widely perceived as too difficult” is the comment of Anders Hove, one of the associate directors at the Paulson Institute, an institution which aims to advance sustainable growth in China and USA. As far as his and other environmental experts are concerned, shutting down the number of steel factories in the region would be the only successful solution. For them, this reduction of polluting plants would not be possible because of state-owned enterprises, that do not agree with such measures.

In any case, everyone must wait to see if these measures will curb air pollution and smog problems in the Chinese capital, but certainly this plan can be seen as a sign of the growing environmental awareness amongst the Chinese political class, who are now taking action against one of the most hazardous and grievous issues in contemporary Chinese society. Certainly, it would be better also if more powerful measures (like reducing steel emissions) could be enforced to reduce pollution and to protect the environment. We must remember, however, that China is making efforts regarding solar energy (China dominates the solar industry), so China is striving to improve its environmental situation. As far as the “green necklace” is concerned, its effects remain to be seen, but it is of course a move in the right direction, the direction of a cleaner and more sustainable China.

Article written by Francesco Palumbo, exchange student at the University of Helsinki from the University of Napoli “L’Orientale”.