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Beijing plans (again) to reduce pollution by 2020, this time using trains

Another month, another plan to conquer the skies

As these past few weeks have teased us with a few days of the big Beijing blue, a new plan hopes to bring even more clear skies to the capital. In the latest act of the anti-pollution revolution, authorities have released a plan for Beijing that aims to reduce harmful air pollutants to 25 percent of 2015 levels – or a 10 percent further reduction from 2017 levels – by 2020.

After closing coal-fired power plants and other manufacturing firms, the next step in taming the smog beast involves greener transportation. By shifting more cargo transport to trains, increasing the number of new-energy vehicles and cracking down on diesel-powered trucks, the aim is to get PM2.5 levels down to an annual average of 52 micrograms (μg) per cubic metre in urban areas by 2020. (World Health Organization guidelines still suggests 10μg per cubic metre as an acceptable annual average.)

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Will 2020 be the year of the smog-free-city?

Currently, trains transport just under 3 percent of Beijing's cargo, but seeing as goods trucks produce 13 times the pollution for the same weight of cargo as trains, as Reuters reports, planners seemed to have realised it is time to further utilise the cleaner option – and the nation's 121,000km of railway lines. Thus, by 2020, Beijing plans to increase rail transportation of cargo up to 10 percent of the total.

Additionally, China Daily reports that the newest plan includes doubling the number of new-energy vehicles (NEVs) on Beijing roads to 400,000. China does already have the largest stock of NEVs in the world, but the plan to increase the use of electric vehicles in the capital is just yet another way to reduce the smog, as these green vehicles produce little to no air pollution.

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Good looking and good for the environment, BYD's Tang has topped NEV charts around the world. Image: Deserttanker.

A final piece of the transport puzzle lies with diesel trucks – you know the ones – those grumbling monsters that, apparently, are behind a whopping 90 percent of pollution released by internal combustion engines, even though they represent only 4 percent of engines in the city. Authorities have said that they will increase law enforcement surrounding diesel-powered goods vehicles, presumably to ensure they are road-worthy and in line with transport standards.

Beijing has also said it will 'inspect' at least 1.5 million of the cargo trucks each year. While this part of the plan has a whiff of diesel-flavoured vagueness, it will hopefully be just another incentive to ensure vehicles that do stay on the roads are well-maintained and cleaner.

These measures themselves will probably have little to no direct effect on your day-to-day life – unless you ride a diesel truck to work – but the prospect of a better average air quality is something we're sure everyone can rally around.

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