Beijing’s Anti-Pollution Face-Lift In 6 Photos

Originally posted here on 11/10/2014

Beijing before and after pollution


BEIJING — World leaders have descended on the Chinese capital for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, and the city has been scrambling to put on its best face for the titans of Pacific Rim politics. That means doing anything and everything to avoid another Airpocalypse — the dreaded extreme pollution episodes that periodically smother the city in cancerous particulates.

Factories in the surrounding regions have halted operations, construction projects have ground to a standstill, outdoor barbecue restaurants have been shuttered, Beijing workers have been given a six-day holiday, and half of all private cars are banned from the roads each day, among other restrictions.

Massive in scope and scale, the experiment in environmental engineering brought several days of blue skies last week and briefly gave the world a glimpse of what Beijing can be: a gorgeous world-class city steeped in tradition and stunning architecture. But as the global elite prepared for closing ceremonies on Tuesday, a putrid haze once again rolled over the city and brought levels of PM2.5, tiny particles that can embed in the lungs, to 239 micrograms per cubic meter. The WHO declares 25 micrograms per cubic meter to be a safe daily level.

Even that paled in comparison with the pollution levels that came in October. The city saw multiple extreme pollution episodes in the run-up to APEC, and many residents speculated that looming restrictions were merely pushing factories in the region to run overtime while preparing for APEC stoppages.

Dramatic as the air quality improvements were at times, they also hammered home Beijing’s own inconvenient truth: If shutting down a regional economy can barely conjure a few days of blue skies, what hope is there for a lasting solution to the city’s air pollution crisis?

Check out the comparison of clear skies vs. polluted skies and decide for yourself.

  • The National Stadium, aka The Bird’s Nest
    Jeffrey Kesler
  • Workers Stadium
    Matt Sheehan and Jeffrey Kesler
  • The Forbidden City
    Matt Sheehan and Jeffrey Kesler
  • Olympic Park
    Jeffrey Kesler
  • Sanlitun SOHO
    Matt Sheehan and Jeffrey Kesler
  • Olympic Park

Can China’s 13th Five-Year Plan deliver more sustainable cities?

Article by He Quandong

China’s next five-year plan must turn the country’s urbanization ambitions into concrete, implementable measures, says the Energy Foundation’s He Dongquan

article image

Better public transport is likely to be a priority in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (Image by Yuxuan Wang shows Beijing’s central business district)

As China’s policymakers mull the contents of the country’s next Five-Year Plan, chinadialogue asks a range of contributors what they would like to see in the development blueprint.

In March China published a new urbanisation plan for 2014 to 2020. How this vision is implemented through the 13th Five-Year Plan will determine what China’s cities look like in the years ahead.

There are a number of points in the plan worth noting.

The overall approach to sustainable cities is excellent. It calls for urban space to be optimised through public transport, high-capacity infrastructure and mixed-use development. These ideas are closely linked to China’s energy-saving and emissions-reduction needs.

New concepts include: transport-oriented development, mixed communities,urban growth boundaries and intensive urban development. These point towards fresh approaches to city building as planners seek to waste less on unnecessary infrastructure, shift patterns of behaviour, introduce systems to support public transport and change the emissions status-quo.

As well as greater use of low-carbon technology, new energy systems, smart cities and energy and emissions saving, the new plan calls for industrial land to be reallocated to encourage the circular economy. This recognises that, as China has urbanised, the efficiency of land-use has been low.

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Next we need to wait and see how the 13th Five-Year Plan turns these ambitions into concrete policies and implementable measures, and how it coordinates action across different government departments.

Another change is a new emphasis on the role of small cities. In the past, Chinese urbanisation policy looked to major hubs, but now the government recognises that a spread of smaller cities is needed to resolve economic and social issues. This will require changes in land ownership, government finance and taxation and the hukou system, in order to allow for a new phase of urbanisation, distinct from a past model dependent on GDP growth and government land sales.

The document also stresses that China’s urbanisation plans must be both feasible and properly enforced. Planning laws introduced in the past decade have supported the idea of “three plans in one”. This is the idea that content common to economic and social planning, urban planning and land-use planning should be carried out via a single process. The hope is that this will produce more scientific and feasible proposals which, crucially, are more likely to get implemented. In line with this approach, the regional plans proposed in this new document will include the housing authorities, the development and reform authorities and land authorities – going much further than the existing system run by the housing ministry.

I expect at the overall level the 13th Five-Year Plan will focus on solving issues faced by migrant workers, the hukou system, and coordination across different planning systems. Urban low-carbon development is likely to be covered at the level of specific plans, with the focus being coordination across different sectors.

The combined planning mentioned above is mainly happening at the local level: coordination mechanisms between the Ministry of Land, Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Housing are not yet in place. If we want better quality planning then the 13th Five-Year Plan needs to resolve this issue.

This article was originally published in China Dialogue