China gets $300m loan to help clear Beijing air – thanks to Atkins

UK engineering giant Atkins has declared its role in helping China secure an historic loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to help clean up the dangerously polluted air of Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei.

By preparing a rapid Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Chinese authorities, Atkins demonstrated that their bold policy moves could cut coal consumption by millions of tons a year, and prevent millions of tons of carbon emissions.

As a result, the ADB agreed to a $300m loan to help authorities pursue their plans in the greater Beijing capital area. It was the ADB’s first ever policy-based loan to China.

According to the ADB, the greater Beijing capital area – comprising Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei (BTH) – is home to 109 million people and accounts for 10% of the national gross domestic product.

The region’s unprecedented growth has resulted in serious air pollution from industrial and urban development, and from a sharp rise in the use of motor vehicles.

Concentrations of inhalable particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometres (known as PM2.5) in the area have reached several times higher than cities in developed countries.

This has become a significant cause for concern – not only for local residents but also neighbouring countries and the rest of the world. The World Health Organization concludes that no amount of PM2.5 is safe.

Mark Hewlett, Atkins’ associate director and project manager, said: "Working in partnership with the ADB, we were delighted to be involved in this important and ground breaking project, which is contributing to addressing some of the key negative effects of rapid urbanisation and helping improve the lives of the people in the BTH region."

In addition to helping to reduce air pollution this project aims to contribute to the PRC’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by cutting the region’s coal consumption.

Hebei Province is the main bottleneck of pollution control in the capital area and the PRC’s second-largest coal consumer, relying heavily on resource intensive and polluting heavy industries. In 2014, seven of the 10 cities with the worst air quality in the PRC were in Hebei.

With ADB support, Hebei is making fundamental reforms. These include policy actions to switch from coal to cleaner energy, promote public transport in urban areas, and increase use of biomass for energy in rural areas.

It will also develop a monitoring system and help strengthen environmental regulatory enforcement. Job support and social protection will be provided for workers affected by industrial transformation.

Atkins conducted a rapid Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to consider the effects of the policy actions.

"The results of the rapid SEA clearly indicate a range of environmental benefits being generated by the policy actions, contributing to significant estimated coal consumption reductions of around 12.4 million tons, representing about 4% of the Hebei’s total coal consumption in 2012, as well as estimated air pollutant and GHG emissions reductions, with carbon dioxide emissions alone reduced by 18 million tons a year against 2012 levels," said Hewlett.

Image: Beijing shrouded in smog in 2014 (Kentaro IEMOTO/Wikimedia Commons)

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