Here’s How China Is Winning Its War Against Pollution

In the past, state media said poor air quality was due to “fog”. Atiger/Shutterstock

Madison Dapcevich 15 Mar 2018, 12:21

In a dramatic televised announcement, the Chinese government declared it was waging a “war on pollution”. That was in 2014. Four years later, the numbers are in: China is winning.

It means big things for its people: if these reductions in pollution are sustained, the average Chinese citizen will add almost 2.5 years to their life expectancy.

The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) analyzed daily data from over 200 monitors across China from 2013-2017.

The country’s most populated cities have cut concentrations of fine particulates in the air by an average of 32 percent in just four years – most are meeting or exceeding goals outlined in their 2013 Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan, a $270-billion initiative with plans to reduce particulate air matter in the most densely-populated cities. An additional $120 billion was set aside to fight pollution in Beijing.

The country pledged to meet reduction goals by reducing the nation’s dependency on coal, controlling vehicle emissions, increasing renewable energy generation, and better enforcing emissions standards. The government also increased its transparency in sharing information with the public.

It not only marked a shift in the government’s longstanding prioritization of economic development over the environment, but also the government’s rhetoric about air quality. In the past, state media said poor air quality was due to “fog” and that emissions didn't affect this.

The Chinese government took concrete steps to follow through with decisions outlined in the Action Plan to uphold its promise.

Any new coal-fired power plants were prohibited, and in 2017, the plans for 103 new coal plants were canceled. Those that weren’t canceled were made more efficient and were required to reduce their emissions. By some estimates, by 2020 every Chinese coal plant will be more efficient than every US coal plant. Coal plants that didn’t meet new requirements were cut and replaced with natural gas. Officials made economic moves when they shifted gears to cut steel production and instead incentivize non-fossil fuel power. 

The Chinese government also promoted an “ecological red line” that restricts “irrational development” and curbs construction near rivers, forests, and national parks.

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