Beijing and Tianjin municipalities and Hebei province make up the economically important Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei (BTH) region in the northern part of the People’s Republic China (PRC). Home to 109.2 million people, the region generated 10% of national gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013. It is an engine of PRC’s socioeconomic development, but poor air quality jeopardizes sustainable growth. While air pollution has been a common environmental problem for many developed countries, the situation for the BTH region is unique. As part of a fast-developing upper middle-income country, the region is undergoing unprecedented growth rates that makes it simultaneously experience various types of air pollution resulting from industrialization, urbanization, and motorization.
Against this backdrop, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a $300 million policy−based loan for the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei Air Quality Improvement–Hebei Policy Reforms Program in December 2015. The program focused on Hebei that, compared with Beijing and Tianjin, lagged in economic development but topped in poverty incidence and pollution. In 2014, Hebei’s GDP per capita was only 40% of Beijing’s and 38% of Tianjin’s, about 88% of the 3.1 million of the BTH region’s poor people lived in Hebei, 7 of PRC’s 10 most air-polluted cities were in the province, and 80% of the most health-damaging pollutants in the BTH originated from Hebei. To improve air quality in the BTH, addressing Hebei’s problems was a priority, along with improving coordination of air quality improvement efforts in the region.
The program’s anticipated impact was reduced air pollution and improved public health in the BTH region. Its intended outcome was a strengthened framework for incremental policy and investment actions in Hebei to improve air quality in the BTH region. The outputs comprised 17 policy actions related to reducing air pollution from key sectors, strengthening the policy and institutional framework for environmental management, and promoting employment for inclusive industrial transformation.
At completion, 9 policy actions to accelerate the switch from coal to the use of cleaner energy were put in place and started to be implemented, including a natural gas network expansion plan, a regulation to promote the production of recycled synthetic gas from coke oven flue gas, accelerated decommissioning of decentralized heat-only boilers, imposing annual targets for municipal governments to reduce coal consumption, development of financial and market-based incentives for the use of low-carbon, low-emission energy in heating services, and more.
7 policy actions to assist Hebei in enhancing the legal and policy framework, developing a comprehensive monitoring and analytical system, and strengthening environmental regulatory enforcement capacity were adopted. Reemployment and redeployment of workers affected by efforts to gear away from pollutive industries were started.
Delays in implementing 6 policy actions did not diminish the effectiveness of the program in achieving its intended outcome, in excess of targets and ahead of the designated deadline. The fund disbursement rates for air pollution control measures increased to 93% for the PRC central government, 99% for the HPG, and 94% for municipal governments at the end of 2016.
ADB’s East Asia Department rated the project highly successful. HPG was the executing agency. The Hebei Development and Reform Commission and Finance Department were responsible for program implementation.