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China experiences reduction in air pollution
2016-02-02 00:00:00
Although 80% of all cities in China are still below national standards, efforts to clean up the country seem to be having an effect as air pollution levels fell by around 10% last year. Greenpeace East Asia has reported that the average level of PM2.5 is at 50.2 micrograms per cubic metre in the 366 major cities in China, this is an improvement yet still 15 above the government’s target and 40 above the standard of the World Health Organisation.

The areas with the cleanest air were Tibet, Yunnan, Guizhou, Fujian and Hainan as opposed to Henan, Tianjin, Beijing, Hebei and Shandong who reported the worst levels of PM2.5 pollution. Greenpeace released a report on the progress of the country and noted a definite improvement in making the change in regards to public knowledge. The effort from China is clear to see as 367 different cities sent information relating to six different air quality measurements compared to the year before when just 190 cities sent information regarding PM2.5 alone. 

Beijing, the capital of China, did see a reduction in PM2.5 levels by around 3% although they do remain dangerously high at 80 micrograms per cubic metre. On the other end of the scale, Shanghai actually saw an increase in PM2.5 of the same percentage; however, the levels are just over 50 micrograms here. The increase in Shanghai has been put down to a failure of the government in regards to setting out a clear mission when it comes to reducing coal consumption. Beijing, on the other hand, did set out clear targets and restrictions on coal consumption. Beijing has said that they want to reduce coal consumption by 13 million tonnes per year by 2017. Tianjin, Hebei and Shandong have also set targets of 10, 40 and 20 million tonnes respectively.

In truth, most areas of the country did enjoy an improvement in air quality over the course of the year, however, winter seemed to prove a bit of a challenge for Beijing as they issued their first ‘red alert’ as a result of bad smog. This isn’t a new problem for China as smog is more common in the winter as more coal is burned for heat. 18 cities saw more than 20 days of smog last winter; Baoding had around 35 whilst Beijing had 25. It is believed that a total of 76 cities experienced three or more consecutive days of heavy pollution, which meant that the ‘red alert’ was triggered twice by Beijing’s Heavy Air Pollution Emergency Response Plan.

The large amount of smog days was helped along by the conditions of the country as last winter there were over 40 days where the conditions were perfect for smog (calm and humid) as opposed to just 19 the year before. Although this was a problem, the copious amount of coal being burned is still the largest concern.

With the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-2021) coming up, Greenpeace has recommended that the government set a cap on national coal consumption as an attempt to improve air quality even further. It also suggests targets for PM2.5 for the whole nation rather than just certain areas and municipalities.