China's latest step forward on vehicle emissions regulation

Published Mon, 2016.07.11 | By

Hui He

On June 6–7, the Eighth Round of the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue was held in Beijing. The two nations are making remarkable progress toward reducing the environmental and energy impact of motor vehicles, especially heavy-duty vehicles. One of the key outcomes of this round was the announcement that China had "accelerated the release of its draft China 6/VI emission standards for light- and heavy-duty vehicles to mid-2016, and intends to implement these standards nationwide by 2020." (See also here for a fact sheet on the outcome of the meeting, which included important progress on phasing down HFCs, support for a global market-based measure to address CO2 emissions from international aviation, and collaboration through the G20 on climate change and clean energy).
The news on heavy-duty vehicles in particular is welcome. Motor vehicles are a major source of health-hazardous pollutant emissions in China. In 2015, motor vehicles contributed about 5.9 million metric tons of NOx emissions (an ozone precursor), or about 30 percent of overall NOx emissions nationwide. The latest emissions source assessments in nine Chinese megacities reveal that 15% to 50% of PM2.5 emissions are attributable to mobile sources—mainly motor vehicles (Figure 1). Among motor vehicles, heavy-duty vehicles are the primary contributors (over 80%) of PM and NOx emissions.

Figure 1. Contribution of mobile sources to local PM2.5 emissions in nine Chinese cities.

(Based on Ministry of Environmental Protection, 2016 China Vehicle Environmental Management Annual Report, June 2016).

Over the past decade, China has tightened its vehicle emission regulations significantly. In April 2016, it began to implement stage five of national new-vehicle emissions standards (China 5/V) in key regions. In May, the Ministry of Environmental Protection released the proposal for stage six of emission standards for light-duty vehicles (China 6), with implementation slated to begin in 2019. The newly announced timeline of China 6/VI standard implementation will accelerate the introduction of the most stringent emission reduction requirements and advanced emission control technologies. This will help China close the gap between its standards and those of the United States and the European Union (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Timelines for light-duty gasoline vehicle (top) and heavy-duty vehicle emission standard implementation in China, the European Union, and the United States.

The adoption of China 6/VI vehicle emission standards, with effective compliance, will force significant mid-term and long-term reductions in key health and climate pollutant emissions, bringing tremendous health benefits. The standards will reduce PM emissions by 37,000 metric tons, NOx emissions by 3.3 million metric tons (figure 3), and avoid about 45,000 premature deaths in 2035 (Figure 4). 

Figure 3. Projected emission reduction of PM and NOx with implementation of China 6/VI standards by 2020. (Source: ICCT roadmap model)

Figure 4. Projected health benefits in terms of avoided premature mortalities and years of life lost, compared to 2010 impacts. (Source: ICCT roadmap model)

At the meeting, the U.S. and China also formally launched the “Race to Zero Emissions” program, a "collaborative and friendly competition that encourages cities and metropolitan transit districts to incorporate new generations of advanced, non-polluting transit buses onto streets in the United States and China." And, in addition to the general agreement to pursue enlightened climate change and clean energy policies together in the G20, they pledged to work together this year to secure agreement there on improvements to fuel quality, energy efficiency, and emissions in the heavy-duty sector.
The progress being made by both of the world’s leading vehicle markets signals their utmost commitment to reducing air pollution from and the climate impact of motor vehicles. By approving an accelerated release of the China 6/VI emission standards, especially for heavy-duty vehicles, significant short-term and long-term health benefits will be realized.