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26 May, 2014 14:37

Junking clunkers: China will destroy 5,000,000 cars this year to battle air pollution

Junking clunkers: China will destroy 5,000,000 cars this year to battle air pollution

China is going to make air cleaner by taking 5.33 million ageing cars off its roads, according to a government document. The move is part of a broader campaign for battling deep environmental crisis that’s gripped world’s second-biggest economy.

The vehicles in question are so-called ‘yellow label’ cars that do not meet Chinese fuel standards and are thus meant to be ‘eliminated’ this year, the Chinese State Council document published on Monday and cited by Reuters, says.

Chinese authorities, spurred by overwhelming public outcry, have lately boosted efforts for tackling the growing ecological crisis, a byproduct of decades of massive economic growth amid neglect for environmental protection.

The plan for cutting the number of old vehicles is part of a broader action plan to cut emissions over the next two years. Chinese authorities say the country had not been able to catch up with its pollution reduction plan for 2011-2013 period and now had to come up with some tougher measures.

Cars drive on the Three Ring Road amid the heavy haze in Beijing February 26, 2014. (Reuters/Jason Lee)

In Beijing, 330,000 cars will be disposed of, while 660,000 will be taken off the streets of the neighboring Hebei province, home to seven of China's smoggiest cities in 2013.

The document does not specify how exactly the process of getting rid of old cars is going to be implemented. Car owners who agree to have their old cars scrapped could be getting subsidies, as was earlier done by Beijing municipal government, which offered sums between 2,500-14,500 yuan (US$400-2,300) to those ready to say goodbye to their ageing vehicles.

The level of the hazardous airborne particles known PM 2.5 in Beijing air is over four times the daily level recommended by the World Health Organization. A third of all PM 2.5 in the air of the Chinese capital comes from vehicle emissions, according to Beijing’s environmental watchdog.

"Many vehicles have problems and many didn't even meet the standards when they came out of the factory, and fining them on the streets isn't the way to solve this problem," Li Kunsheng, director of the Vehicle Emissions Center of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, told Reuters.

Cars travel on an overpass amid thick haze in the morning in Beijing February 26, 2014. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Earlier, Kunsheng complained the agency lacked both technology and staff to carry out inspection of all cars in Beijing.

Beijing is going to cut down the total number of cars in its streets to 5.6 million this year. It already introduced restrictions before, like last year’s reducing the number of new license plates by 37 percent to 150,000 a year. Beijing authorities have also been financing upgrading 200,000 ageing cars.

In April, Chinese authorities have imposed tougher penalties on polluters in legislation amendments that will come into effect in January 2015.

Agencies overseeing environment issues are already complaining of being deluged with the amount of fines they hand out to polluters - up to 6,000 a month.