Strict Standards Put China on Track to Meet Emissions Goal by 2020

A photo taken in the city of Taiyuan, China, shows haze on Dec. 3, 2016. (Credit: Yuhang Wang)

(CN) – Low emission standards put into place five years ago have drastically cut polluting emissions from Chinese coal-burning power plants, according to new research released Monday.

The study, in the journal Nature Energy, details how a team of researchers across the United Kingdom and China examined how China’s Ultra-Low Emissions (ULE) Standards policy, introduced in 2014, has affected emission discharge from Chinese power plants.

The scientists discovered that after the low emissions standards were introduced in China, coal-burning thermal power plant emissions dropped dramatically – and rapidly – across the nation.

Researchers found that between 2014 and 2017, Chinese power plants emitted harmful pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, at a drastically less severe rate. Data shows that in the three years following the ULE standards, power plant emissions dropped 65%, 60% and 72% each year, respectively. This resulted in millions of fewer metric tons of pollutants being released into China’s atmosphere during those years.

Zhifu Mi, co-author of the study and lecturer at UCL Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, says this is an inspiring development for China and the world at large.

“This is encouraging news for China, as well as other countries wishing to reduce their power emissions,” Mi said in an email. “Thermal power plants combusting coal, oil, natural gas and biomass are one of the major contributors to global air pollution. These significant emission reductions demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of controlling emissions from power plants to reach ultra-low levels.”

The study reports that if this trend continues, Chinese emissions can lower even further as more coal-burning power plants meet the ULE standards. Researchers note that as these emissions continue to drop, air quality around the nation is likely to vastly improve and Chinese citizens could experience significant benefits to their respiratory health and wellbeing.

Mi hopes that these groundbreaking changes will not only improve China’s environmental quality, but as well help change the way we look at the role coal can play in energy management.

“With coal being the most widely used fuel in China, cutting the number of thermal power plants within a short timeframe would be challenging. The results of this research are encouraging in demonstrating that coal can be used in a much cleaner way to generate electricity,” Mi said.

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