China Clean Fuels Summit
Two recent events in Beijing, a journalist forum organized by the China Sustainable Energy Program (September 5) and the China Clean Fuels Summit (September 4–6), have focused attention on the critical role played by fuel quality in clean transportation policy. As ICCT chair Michael Walsh noted in an interview with CNTV, if China combines ultra-low sulfur fuels with tight vehicle emissions rules, pollution levels in the country can continue to decline even in the face of the projected growth in the vehicle market. Several key themes emerge from the summit and a related forum organized by the China Sustainable Energy Project on September 5. (See below for links to coverage in the Chinese media.) Insufficient supply of low-sulfur diesel fuel threatens to delay implementation of new heavy-duty vehicle emissions standards. The China III diesel standards issued in late 2009 mandated that 350ppm-sulfur diesel nationwide be available nationwide by July 1, 2011. But because that fuel standard would not go in to effect until six months after the scheduled implementation date of China IV diesel HDV emissions standard, the effective date of that regulation was postponed for one year, to January 1, 2012. Now, more than two months after the China III deadline has passed, low-sulfur diesel fuel is still not available throughout the entire country, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection is under pressure to further postpone implementation of the China IV diesel HDV standard. Two main factors impede the national distribution of low-sulfur diesel. Fuel prices are controlled by NDRC, and so refineries cannot adjust prices to recoup the additional costs of production. Consequently, refiners are reluctant to supply low-sulfur fuel in areas where higher prices have not been approved. Also, the MEP lacks authority to regulate emissions-related fuel quality, and both the standard and the implementation timeline are primarily controlled by the industry; this leads to a situation in which vehicle emissions standards proposed by MEP are typically launched ahead of fuel quality standards. The media coverage of the summit highlights the adverse impact on air quality and public health that further delays in implementing the China IV diesel HDV standards will have. Lack of progress with the standards could also hurt local government efforts to meet the regional air quality improvement goals and national NOx reduction goals. As some stories note, changing the China Air Pollution and Control Law to give MEP authority to regulate and enforce emissions-related fuel quality standards would help prevent a recurrence of this confusing situation.
New Century Weekly 财新《新世纪 (cover story)