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FEATURE STORY June 5, 2019

China’s Hebei Province Fights for Blue Skies with World Bank Support




  • In the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region of 110 million people, Hebei Province is the largest contributor to air pollution
  • Industrial enterprises, coal burning cook stoves and transport are among the major sources of air pollutants
  • Hebei’s PM 2.5 ambient concentration level has been reduced by nearly 40%, with World Bank support

In the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, home to 110 million people, Hebei contributes the most to air pollution, responsible for 70% of PM 2.5 emissions, an air pollutant that poses the greatest health risk. The province has the highest annual average concentrations of PM 2.5.

Hebei’s air pollution challenges are the result of a large concentration of highly polluting industries and vehicles, coupled with a large agricultural sector. For example, Hebei is the largest iron and steel producer in China, accounting for about one-quarter of the national output, and an important producer of cement and flat glass. Most of the power plants in the province are coal fired. In 2014, coal accounted for nearly 90% of its total energy consumption.

Industrial processes are the main source of primary PM2.5, while residential emissions stemming from stalk burning and coal, mainly to fuel stoves, is the second largest.

Hebei has thus been a key battlefield in China’s war on air pollution. In 2013, the provincial government announced a five-year action plan outlining a series of measures to reduce air pollution and win the battle for blue skies.

In 2016, the World Bank approved a US$500 million loan to support the implementation of these measures, adopting the Program-for-Results (PforR) lending tool which links loan disbursements to tangible results on the ground.

Continuous Monitoring to Ensure Compliance

To reduce emissions from key industrial sectors, Hebei has issued the most stringent industrial emission standards in the country.  A continuous emission monitoring system has been established to track and enforce compliance by all industrial enterprises in the province. 

Data collected through the system is now also used by the government to analyze emission trends and inform policymaking. A public information channel on the Ecology and Environment Bureau’s official website allows anyone interested to check emission information on any one company.

On the emitter side, desulfurization, denitrification and dust removal facilities have been installed in iron and steel, power, coking, petrochemical, cement and other industrial enterprises to minimize emissions. Monitors at the plants automatically collect and transmit data to the province’s big data platform.   

In the provincial government’s environmental information center, real-time emission data is displayed on an electronic map.   “When excess emissions are detected, a warning sign appears.  Then the enterprise is required to file a report to the environmental department within 12 hours.  If the excess emission persists, then the enforcement department steps in.  These three steps will ensure that the problem is addressed immediately,” explained Han Chunliang, an assistant director of the information center.

The system also monitors urban air quality, with over 2,000 air quality monitoring stations spread across Hebei, more than any other province in China, said Han.

China’s multi-level air quality monitoring network is the most extensive in the developing world, covering all the provinces, cities, counties, districts and townships. Other sources of air pollution, such as vehicular exhaust, construction dust and burning of crop residue, are also monitored online and in real time.

"It is very clean and convenient. Heating during winter is now clean and warm and we don’t worry about carbon monoxide poisoning. It costs only about 20 yuan (US$3) a month. "
Bai Huifang
a resident in Nanzhao Village near Shijiazhuang

Electric Buses and Cleaner Stoves Help Cut Emissions and Clear the Air

To cut transport emissions, more than 4,000 diesel buses have been phased out and replaced by electric buses in the province.  In Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital, electric buses now make up more than half of the city’s public bus fleet, with the rest fueled by liquified natural gas.

Coal-burning cookstoves are another priority area in the program.  Bai Huifang, 46, is a resident in Nanzhao Village near Shijiazhuang. Her house is very neat and clean.  But it was not so a few years ago.  

“We used to have a big stove and had to carry coal into our house every day. Despite all the cleaning, our house was always dirty and covered in coal dust.”

Bai had a new gas stove installed in 2016 and received a government subsidy of RMB1,800 (US$260) to help pay part of the purchase price of RMB3,200 (US$463).  She uses the new gas stove for both cooking and winter heating.

 “It is very clean and convenient. Heating during winter is now clean and warm and we don’t worry about carbon monoxide poisoning. It costs only about 20 yuan (US$3) a month,” said Bai.

Like Bai, millions of families in Hebei have installed clean gas stoves. To encourage people to switch to gas stoves, the government paid for installation of the pipeline network and household connections and subsidized the cost of stove and gas in the first three years.  

Progress Seen in Air Pollution Control

The World Bank-funded program has targeted and supported the implementation of the priorities in Hebei’s air pollution action plan, and also addressed some sources of emissions that tend to be overlooked but could make substantial impact, for example, improving fertilizer use efficiency in agriculture.

These targeted measures are starting to pay off. Hebei’s annual average PM2.5 concentration level has been decreasing, down by almost 40% between 2013 and 2017. Deployment of clean stoves in the two cities of Baoding and Langfang alone has reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by six million tons, equivalent to taking 1.2 million cars off the road per year.

“Hebei is the first province in China to address air pollution through a World Bank-funded program. It is also the first World Bank Program-for-Results operation led by a Chinese government agency. Through this innovative lending instrument, the program has supported the effective implementation of the key measures in Hebei’s Five-Year Action Plan on Air Pollution Control by bringing global knowledge and international best practices,” said Qiao Xiaolin, a deputy director-general of the Hebei Provincial Development and Reform Committee, who led the implementation of the program.