【英语中国】中国治理空气污染没有捷径 No Quick Fix for China’s Air Quality

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2014-1-15 09:49

小艾摘要: To control the pollution that's choking Beijing, demolition squads recently swooped down on this industrial city located two hours away by car and crippled a batch of coal-burning steel works. TV came ...
No Quick Fix for China's Air Quality
To control the pollution that's choking Beijing, demolition squads recently swooped down on this industrial city located two hours away by car and crippled a batch of coal-burning steel works.

TV cameras caught the officially sanctioned saboteurs dismantling massive pieces of equipment in outdated steel facilities that had long resisted government orders to close. Some reports say they used explosives to blow up boilers in what was dubbed 'Operation Sunday.' The message to local officials who are often complicit with owners of polluting factories, many of them big taxpayers: get serious about the urban cleanup.

As China's air pollution indexes hit record highs, it's easy to conclude that the country's central government lacks resolve in dealing with the problem.

But the military-style operation in Tangshan suggests the opposite is true.

In fact, a team of scientists and engineers from Harvard University in the U.S. and several top Chinese institutions, including Tsinghua University, say that China's air quality is getting worse despite draconian efforts to eliminate sources of pollution.

And, even as the skies over Beijing and other major cities continue to darken, these experts credit the government with some of the most successful pollution abatement programs in history.

The conclusion they reach is a troubling one both for China and its neighbors, including Japan and South Korea, which stand in the exhaust stream of China's roaring industrial engine: The best efforts of Chinese authorities to combat pollution are being overwhelmed by the sheer pace of economic expansion in the country.

In short, these scientists say, there are no quick or easy fixes.

'There's nothing irrational about the claim that China has been very successful at certain types of pollution control,' says Chris Nielsen, the executive director of the China Project at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The fact that this success hasn't immediately translated into bluer skies show that 'these are extraordinarily complex problems,' he argues.

Brute force, exemplified by the Tangshan demolition raids, is a beguiling option for Chinese politicians eager to demonstrate progress against pollution to an increasingly angry and impatient public.

Air pollution is now the fourth-biggest health threat to Chinese people, according to a study published last year in the Lancet, a British medical journal. About 1.2 million people died prematurely in China in 2010 as a result of air pollution, the study showed. Chinese government data show that lung cancer is now the leading cause of death from malignant tumors.

Tangshan is ground zero in this escalating health crisis. On average last year, the air breathed by its 7.6 million people was considered hazardous to health for five days out of seven according to China's own official standards. That makes Tangshan one of the filthiest cities in China--and thus the world.

Its noxious emissions, combined with those from other gritty cities surrounding Beijing, helped produced the 'airpocalypse' a year ago when the Chinese capital experienced air pollution more than 70 times greater than the level considered safe in the U.S.

What's more, Tangshan's steel industry is plagued by overcapacity--an immense problem in China whose total redundant steel capacity is estimated to equal the entire steel production capacity of the U.S.

Disabling the oldest and dirtiest steel plants, therefore, struck at two problems at once.

However, says Mr. Nielsen, the huge complexity of China's pollution challenge doesn't always lend itself to the kind of top-down solutions favored by Chinese state planners.

For instance, China's dramatic progress in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power stations may actually have increased the levels of fine PM 2.5 particles in the air in north China during the winter. The particles, which do the most damage to human lungs, are formed by chemical reactions in the air. Removing the sulfur allowed even more polluting reactions to occur, says Mr. Nielsen.

Shifting climate patterns are also conspiring against the environmental cleanup. At one time, cold fronts moving through Beijing helped flush pollutants out to sea. But lately the air has become more stationary.

'They're going after a moving target,' says Deborah Seligsohn, an expert on the Chinese environment who is a researcher at the University of California, San Diego. Still, she predicts that in five to 10 years 'there will be an improvement in air quality that you'll be able to see.'

Last year, a National Action Plan targeted massive spending of $275 billion on antipollution measures over the next five years until 2017. Over that period, the government has targeted a 25% reduction in PM 2.5 levels in the region around Beijing.

Mr. Nielsen believes that the ultimate answer may be a carbon tax on industry, a market-based solution also favored by China's new finance minister, Lou Jiwei.

Still, he points out that no country in the world has been able to shift suddenly from grey skies to blue. 'It's going to take decades,' he says.

为了治理北京严重的空气污染,拆除小组最近奔赴距离北京两个小时车程的工业城市唐山,拆除了几座烧煤的炼钢高炉。

相关报道实际上,一个科学家和工程师组成的小组表示,尽管中国采取了严厉措施消除污染源,但中国的空气质量仍在恶化。这个小组的成员来自美国哈佛大学(Harvard University)及包括清华大学在内的几个中国顶尖科研机构。

Reuters2013年12月末,上海,带着口罩的人们走过一座毛泽东雕像。即使北京和其他主要城市的空气持续恶化,这些专家还是对政府开展的一些史上最成功的污染治理计划表示赞许。

他们得出的结论让中国及其邻国感到沮丧,比如会受到中国污染物排放影响的日本和韩国:中国政府为治理污染而做出的最大努力无法敌过经济快速增长带来的负面作用。

这些科学家们说,简而言之,这些问题没有轻松或快捷的解决办法。

哈佛大学工程与应用科学院(Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)中国项目执行董事尼尔森(Chris Nielsen)说,有关中国已在控制某类污染方面取得极大成功的说法没什么不合理,但这种成功并未立即转化为更蓝的天空,这一事实表明问题极其复杂。

面对越发愤怒且失去耐心的民众,中国政府渴望展现其在治理污染方面取得的成绩。所以对政府来说,采用“蛮力”(拆除唐山的炼钢高炉就是个例子)是一个诱人的选择。

据英国医学杂志《柳叶刀》(Lancet)去年发布的一项研究报告,空气污染现在是危害中国民众健康的第四大威胁因素。这项研究显示,2010年在中国大约有120万人因户外空气污染而过早死亡。而中国政府的数据显示,肺癌现已位居恶性肿瘤患者死亡率首位。

在这场不断升级的健康危机中,唐山是重灾区。根据中国自己的官方标准,唐山760万人去年平均7天中有5天呼吸的空气被认为是危害健康的。唐山由此成为中国最脏的城市之一,同时也在全球最脏的城市之列。

一年前,本地的有害排放物,加上来自北京周边其他多沙土城市的有害排放物,催生了“空气末日”(airpocalypse)一词。当时北京的空气污染程度达到了美国所认为安全水平的70多倍。

此外,唐山的钢铁产业受到产能过剩的困扰——这是中国的一大难题,中国过剩的钢铁产能估计相当于美国钢铁总产能。

因此淘汰污染最严重的老钢厂成为一举两得的措施。

但尼尔森说,中国污染挑战的巨大复杂性并不总是支持规划者青睐的自上而下的解决措施。

比如,中国在降低火电厂二氧化硫排放方面取得的巨大进步实际上可能提升了冬季期间中国北方空气中的PM 2.5浓度。PM 2.5能够对人体肺部产生非常严重的损害,这种物质是由空气中的化学反应形成的。尼尔森说,脱硫会产生更多具污染性的化学反应。

气候模式的变化也不利于环境整治。经过北京的冷空气曾帮助将污染物吹向海洋,但近来大气变得更加稳定。

中国环境问题专家塞利格松(Deborah Seligsohn)说,中国治理环境问题就像要打一个移动的靶。不过她预计,5到10年内将会看到中国空气质量出现改善。塞利格松是加州大学地亚哥分校(University of California, San Diego)的研究员。

去年发布的《大气污染防治行动计划》拟在未来五年(到2017年)投入2,750亿美元治理污染。在此期间,政府计划使京津冀的细颗粒物浓度下降25%。

尼尔森认为中国最终可能会对工业征收碳税,这个基于市场的解决办法也受到中国新任财政部长楼继伟的支持。

然而,他也指出,全球没有哪个国家能够迅速将灰色的天空变为蓝天。他说,这需要花费数十年的时间。

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