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Experts quantify impacts of policies to curb transportation emissions in China

Researchers consult policymakers on choice of policies to study
Researchers meet with policymakers to discuss policy scenarios for the study.
Researchers meet with policymakers to discuss policy scenarios for the study.

The MIT-Tsinghua China Energy and Climate Project and Emory University held a workshop on Nov. 21 with researchers and government officials to discuss new research analyzing the impacts of China’s vehicle emissions policies. Researchers worked with policymakers to develop policy scenarios for a new integrated model that will analyze the emissions, air quality, economic, and public health impacts of policy proposals.

A joint team of researchers from Emory University, MIT, and Tsinghua University is carrying out the study. The project is supported by a grant from the Energy Foundation, which provides resources to institutions that most effectively leverage change in transitioning to a sustainable energy future. The Institute for Energy, Environment, and Economy at Tsinghua University hosted the workshop on their Tsinghua campus. At the meeting, policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders engaged in a detailed, candid discussion of policy developments and scenario designs. The first meeting to launch this effort was held last March.

“This study will help policymakers understand the implications of taking more aggressive steps to control transportation emissions, particularly emissions from road vehicles, which have been outlined in the country’s new air pollution action plan,” says Dr. Valerie Karplus, who leads the MIT-Tsinghua China Energy and Climate Project. “Our framework allows us to quantify the costs and benefits of these measures within a single integrated framework.”

The meeting included representatives from the Chinese Ministry of Finance, Integrated Energy and Climate Policy Bureaus of the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, National Vehicle Emissions Control Center of the Ministry of Environment, and the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau. The MIT, Tsinghua and Emory researchers used this workshop to communicate their results to policymakers and receive their input in designing policy scenarios for their model.

Using the China Regional Energy Model (C-REM), the group will model the impacts of China’s current and future transportation policies on the national economy and in the individual 30 provinces. The C-REM model was developed as part of the MIT-Tsinghua China Energy and Climate Project over the past two years. Recent modeling efforts include adding detail on the transportation sector and connecting the energy and economic data with a comprehensive inventory of China’s provincial emissions. The team used an atmospheric chemistry model to simulate air quality, including concentrations of ozone and particulate matter. Population-weighted concentrations are then used to simulate impacts on human health and economic activity.

The group plans to test three policy scenarios that will meet the needs of decision makers working on transport policy in China. They currently plan to test a no policy “business as usual” case for comparison, a current policies scenario, and an accelerated scenario that implements a more aggressive transport-focused pollution policy. The aggressive policy scenario focuses mainly on the role of tighter standards for fuel quality and vehicle tailpipe emissions.

“China’s leaders are placing ever greater emphasis on improving air quality and the environment,” says Eri Saikawa, assistant professor at Emory University and principal investigator on the project. “Policymakers are eager to identify specific measures that will help to achieve these goals.”

While building the transportation section of the model, researchers found that freight transport dominates energy use and emissions in most provinces, except the more urbanized regions. In addition, private vehicle ownership is rising rapidly and will have major implications for future emissions.

“China’s leaders have an opportunity to manage this growth by accelerating the adoption of low emissions vehicles nationwide,” Karplus says.

Over the coming months, the group will continue to improve the modeling framework and simulate the three policy scenarios. The final results will be shared with policymakers by the end of 2014.

The next meeting is planned for March 2014.

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