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2019-03-06 11:14:03

The island of Hainan has become the first Chinese province to commit to a ban on fossil-fueled vehicles, vowing to outlaw them by 2030.

According to a development plan released Tuesday by the provincial government, Hainan will ensure that all private vehicles are running on clean energy by the end of 2030. The plan also includes a number of nearer-term goals, such as ensuring that all new public service vehicles run on clean energy by 2020 and that most vehicles used for tourism, sanitation, and mass transit go green by 2025. An extensive network of vehicle-charging stations will be constructed across the island over the next three to five years to meet the increase in demand, the plan added.

The Chinese government provides heavy subsidies for both manufacturers and consumers to accelerate the uptake of so-called new-energy vehicles (NEVs), which comprise battery-powered, hybrid plug-ins, and fuel-cell electric vehicles. Although gas-powered car sales fell for seven straight months between July and January, sales of NEVs grew solidly throughout last year compared with 2017.

Yang Fuqiang, a senior adviser on climate and energy at the National Resources Defense Council’s China program, said Hainan’s pledge was a welcome development in the country’s ongoing efforts to cut transport emissions. “Some Chinese think tanks have proposed time frames and road maps for eliminating the use of conventional fuel-burning vehicles, and Hainan’s experiences have been instructive in designing these,” Yang told Sixth Tone. “The main causes of air pollution in urban areas of China are shifting from coal burning toward vehicle emissions. In big cities like Beijing, the pollution basically comes from exhaust fumes.”

However, embracing electric vehicles should be but one component within a broader plan to cut China’s reliance on oil, Yang continued. “The country’s oil imports are still rising every year, and although the trend was gradual eight or nine years ago, it has shot up in the last few years,” he said, citing the country’s record crude oil intake last year. “So the scale of supply is something that the government needs to seriously consider.”

With its sandy beaches and year-round warm weather, tropical Hainan is a popular choice for tourists, in the particular so-called smog refugees eager to escape the heavy pollution that often blankets China’s northern cities in the wintertime. The island is gaining something of a reputation as one of China’s most progressive provinces when it comes to environmental protection, also committing last month to a ban on all single-use nonbiodegradable plastics by 2025 — another China first.

But the province could take a more active role still in environmental policy, Yang concluded. “Hainan’s economic development relies heavily on tourism and other service industries that incentivize it to preserve its good air quality,” Yang said. “But because it’s an island separated from the rest of the country, you still have to drive a car or get on a plane to get there.”

Additional reporting: Liang Chenyu; editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: The 2019 Haikou International New Energy Vehicle Show is held at the Hainan International Conference and Exhibition Center in Haikou, Hainan province, Jan. 10, 2019. Luo Yongfei/VCG)