It's been four years since Premier Li Keqiang announced a 'war against pollution' at the opening of China's National People's Congress. Since then, the Chinese Government has implemented a number of stringent anti-pollution measures, including the closure of coal-fired power plants around Beijing, enforced restrictions on the number of cars on the road and even the removal of coal-fired boilers from homes and small businesses.
But how successful have these measures actually been?
'Strikingly successful', according to a new report by the University of Chicago. Published by the snappily-titled Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (better known as EPIC), the study found Chinese cities on average have reduced concentrations of fine particulates (PM2.5) – widely considered the most dangerous form of air pollution – by 32 percent. Beijing, in particular, has reduced its PM2.5 concentrations by 35 percent, while Baoding (awarded the title of China’s most polluted city in 2015), cut its concentrations by 38 percent.
Using data from almost 250 air monitors throughout the country, this study also analysed the effects of PM2.5 on people's life spans. Adopting a similar methodology to the one used to calculate the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), the study found that 'residents nationally could expect to live 2.4 years longer on average if the declines in air pollution persist.'
The city on track to gain the most years back is Xingtai with 5.4 years, while Beijingers are expected to live an estimated 3.3 years longer (Shanghaiers can expect to gain 2.3 years). Notably, the report also suggests that improvements in life expectancy would be experienced by people of all ages, not just the young and old.
With that all being said, it should be noted that China's air pollution levels still far surpass the World Health Organization's recommendations for what's considered safe. As EPIC's report points out, 'complying with the stricter World Health Organization standards would yield an additional 4.1 years' for all residents.
At this year's National People's Congress, the Chinese Government renewed its pledge to continue fighting pollution, setting more stringent targets for improving air quality and beefing up plans for a nationwide crackdown. However, this approach – which has relied heavily on cutting down industrial production – has seen its share of economic and human costs, with thousands of people in rural areas forced to go without heating this winter. Whether the Government will be able to strike a balance between economic growth, environmental health and its citizens' overall quality of life, only time will tell.
Read the report here: here