China saw a significant decline in power plant emissions after the country introduced strict measures to curb its coal-fired power generators, according to a new study published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Energy.
A group of 11 researchers at institutions in China and abroad found that the country’s annual power emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter dropped by 65%, 60%, and 72%, respectively, between 2014 and 2017. China’s National Energy Administration introduced an ultra-low emissions (ULE) standards policy in 2014 for renovating coal-fired power generators in an effort to limit air pollutant emissions.
“This is encouraging news for China, as well as other countries wishing to reduce their power emissions,” said Mi Zhifu, one of the authors of the study and a lecturer at University College London. “Thermal power plants combusting coal, oil, natural gas, and biomass are one of the major contributors to global air pollution.”
Battling air pollution has been a top priority for the Chinese government in recent years as authorities aim to reduce the toxic smog that blankets parts of the country, especially the north. Coal-fired plants powering the country’s heavy industries, as well as coal-powered boilers warming homes during the winter, have been major contributors to the uptick in pollution.
In 2017, China’s environment ministry announced plans for 28 northern cities including Beijing to make the switch from coal to cleaner forms of energy, though the initiative faced challenges due to incomplete groundwork and a lack of proper implementation. In a bid to continue improving air quality, the ministry in September set stricter emission targets for cities that had reported high levels of PM 2.5 — tiny air particles hazardous to human health — last fall and winter.
China’s carbon emissions are expected to peak between 2021 and 2025, much earlier than the country’s self-set target of 2030, according to a separate Nature study published in July. Ahead of this year’s United Nations Climate Action Summit, the ministry said China would adopt “nature-based solutions” to tackle climate change and reduce the greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, that contribute to global warming.
The new study collected data from an emissions monitoring network covering 96% to 98% of China’s thermal power capacity. Researchers said the reduction in emissions was achieved by introducing several measures — installing and implementing pollution control equipment; shutting down small, inefficient units; and constructing new units with low emission control technology — and that the country’s power emissions are likely to further decline if all thermal units meet ULE standards in 2020.
“These significant emission reductions demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of controlling the emissions from power plants at ultra-low levels,” Mi said.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A power plant in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, Sept. 1, 2017. VCG)