In Bid to Curb Smog, Beijing Plans to Scrap Polluting Older Vehicles

A traffic-clogged Beijing street

Photograph by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

A traffic-clogged Beijing street

For years, responsibility for curtailing China’s massive ecological degradation fell to the relatively weak Ministry of Environment, which lacks staff resources and has nothing close to the political clout of the National Development and Reform Commission that manages the country’s economy. Many of the ministry’s well-intentioned green initiatives have been announced, only to be ignored or unenforced. Meanwhile Beijing’s skies grew ever-grayer.

China’s influential State Council, chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, has recently taken a more direct role in environmental protection. On Monday, the State Council announced a plan to remove 5 million old vehicles that fail to meet Chinese fuel standards from the country’s roadways. In Beijing, vehicle emissions contribute more than 30 percent of the dangerous fine air-pollution particles known as PM 2.5, according to the city’s environmental protection bureau.

Under the new plan, 330,000 so-called “yellow label” vehicles—those with the worst emissions performance—will be withdrawn from Beijing. An additional 660,000 will be removed from adjacent Hebei province, which produces smog that often drifts toward the capital. Reduction targets have also been set for Shanghai, Chongqing, and elsewhere in China.

It is already illegal for vehicles that fail emissions tests to enter Beijing, but enforcement until now has been lax. The city has fairly stringent fuel standards, but many trucks fuel up outside the city and drive through on trucking routes. The State Council document did not specify details for implementing the new plan. It remains to be seen what changes will result from the new, high-level attention.

Larson is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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