china’s plans for high-emitting vehicles

A recent Xinhua article carried this quote:

“High-emission cars and trucks only make up 28 percent of all automobiles in China, but they are responsible for 75 percent of the pollutant emissions,” [MEP Official Li Xinmin] said.

The pollutant amount discharged by a high-emission vehicle is 30 times as much as a Standard IV automobile, according to Li.

Based on this, it is clear that one critical component of a comprehensive vehicle emission control program is controlling “high-emitting” vehicles. In this post, I’ll describe some key recent progress China has made on this front.

Definition of High-Emitting / Yellow-Label Vehicles

yellow label

Technically, there are two main categories of high-emitting vehicles. The first is older vehicles which entered the market prior to the implementation of stringent tailpipe emission standards. This post, as well as most of the recent policies and media referencing high-emitting vehicles, focuses on this first category only.

The second category of high-emitting vehicles includes vehicles which – because of lack of durability, improper maintenance, tampering, etc. – do not meet whatever emission standard they are supposed to meet.  There are separate strategies for managing this second category (for example, routine emission inspections and “spotter” programs), but I will save these for another post.

Within China, high-emitting vehicles of the first type are also referred to as “yellow-label vehicles.” According to this announcement, yellow-label vehicles are defined as gasoline vehicles which do not meet the China I emission standard, and diesel vehicles with do not meet the China III emission standard (“黄标车”是指污染物排放达不到国Ⅰ标准的汽油车和达不到国Ⅲ标准的柴油车”).

Control Strategy

China’s control strategy for high-emitting vehicles has essentially three parts:

Part 1: Identify

China is identifying high-emitters through a vehicle environmental labeling program. Not surprisingly, the term “yellow-label” comes from the fact that these vehicles will be given a yellow environmental label for their windshields; other vehicles will be given a green label. Beijing and many other cities in China already have such a labeling program (for more information, see this post; also Beijing’s 2004 labeling standard), but there is new evidence that MEP plans to take the program nationwide (original MEP announcement here (Chinese)).

Part 2: Restrict movement

Once the high-emitting vehicles are clearly identified and labeled, it becomes much easier to implement a system of restricting vehicle activity based on emission level, with a goal of preventing high emitters from entering densely-populated areas. There are currently restrictions on yellow-label vehicle movement in at least several cities in China:

1/1/09: No yellow-label vehicles may enter inside the Fifth Ring Road
9/1/09: No vehicles without environmental labels may enter Beijing City
After 10/1/09: No yellow-label vehicles may enter inside the Sixth Ring Road
Sources: MEP announcement (Chinese); China Daily , Xinhua (English)

8/1/09: No high-emitting vehicles inside Zhonghuan Road
Source: SHEPB announcement (Chinese), Xinhua (English)

Shenzhen and Hangzhou also appear to have similar programs.

Part 3: Incentivize scrappage / early retirement

In addition to labeling vehicles and restricting movement accordingly, China is also using fiscal incentives to incentivize car owners to scrap their old cars and buy new ones. On July 13th of this year, ten (!) Chinese ministries together issued an announcement about a trade-in / scrappage program for high-emitting vehicles, which lists available subsidies ranging from 3000 to 6000 RMB for consumers who scrap their yellow-label vehicles and buy new ones. More info in English in this AFP story.


By July 9th, even before the national subsidies program was announced, Beijing had apparently already scrapped over 80,000 high emitting vehicles. This is, of course, a terrific start, although China has a long way to go to eliminate the estimated 18 million total high-emitters nationwide.

For excellent additional commentary and analysis, visit the NRDC’s Greenlaw blog:

6/19/09: Another Look at Beijing’s High Polluting Vehicle Phase-out Plan
5/14/09: Beijing’s “Yellow Label” Car Policy Aims to Reduce Vehicle Pollution

5 Responses to “china’s plans for high-emitting vehicles”

  1. Alex says:

    Great site redesign and great post. I’m looking forward to hearing your view on the second category of vehicles you mention above. We visited California’s El Monte vehicles lab earlier this year with a Chinese delegation to learn about how California was dealing with vehicles after they hit the road. The general view was that China still needed to expand its efforts in this area.

  2. […] on Beijing and China’s plans to continue phasing-out high-emitting vehicles, check out this comprehensive piece written by Vance Wagner, a friend of mine who works in the transportation emissions division of the […]

  3. […] effort to push high emitting vehicles from the city center, while phasing them out. In fact, contra the Times piece, the country proposed a “cash for […]

  4. […] at the livefrombeijing blog has a very useful post discussing China’s ‘yellow-label’ vehicles program.  We recommend […]

  5. […] at the livefrombeijing blog has a very useful post discussing China’s ‘yellow-label’ vehicles program.  We recommend it. A recent Xinhua […]

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