Earlier this year, Beijing made some not-so-flattering headlines when it’s air pollution became so bad, the city was partially obscured in NASA satellite photographs. For weeks after the record-breaking spikes, Chinese residents were forced to keep their families indoors, wearing ventilation masks anytime outside travel was necessary.

Although China is often pegged as a “development at any cost” nation, it seems that growing public awareness about the problem has sparked definitive action. Chinese government officials recently announced that it will begin enforcing the country’s first automobile pollution tax in Beijing within the year.

Beijing Smog Comparison
Image via Bobak/Wikimedia Commons

According to Gasgoo, the new tax will be added to the cost of fuel in hopes of discouraging drivers from using their cars quite as much. Drivers in Beijing currently pay a base 17 percent tax rate for every liter of gas. “To this, a fixed tax of one yuan ($0.16) is added, as well as a 0.07 percent urban construction tax and 0.03 percent education tax,” explains Green Car Reports. This will bring the total price of a liter of gas to well over $5.

Although totally anecdotal, higher gas prices have been shown to reduce driving before, even among Americans, so it’s not entirely impossible that the scheme will work.

The news comes only a few short months after the Chinese government announced that it would put into place the country’s first-ever fleetwide fuel-economy standard of about 34 miles per gallon by 2015. Of course, even less driving in more efficient cars won’t make a dent in the country’s dense smog problems if fossil fuel-burning power plants aren’t addressed. Yet it seems the Chinese are willing to tackle this difficult issue as well, with news that Beijing will replace coal-burning heaters in 44,000 homes in a bid to cut air pollutants as soon as possible.

If the efforts are successful, China says it will expand the program to include other cities.

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