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Despite the impressive economic success that China achieves each year, it subsequently suffers from continuously high levels of dangerous air pollution and smog. With an estimated 1.2 million premature deaths occurring in 2010 alone as a result of its air pollution, China has responded with an ambitious goal of becoming pollution-free by 2020.
The Current State of China’s Air
As of April 2019, the environment ministry of China found that the northern Chinese regions of Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei had airborne particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) concentrations that averaged at 81 micrograms per cubic meter, which was a 5.2% increase as compared to previous months. With China’s official standard being 35 micrograms per cubic meter, this nation’s most populous cities are falling short of efficiently reducing their pollution levels.
While there are many causal factors contributing to these dangerously high PM2.5 levels, many people believe that China’s transportation and industry smoke are primarily responsible. In fact, China’s coal city of Linfen, which is in the Shanxi province, has been noted for being the nation’s worst offender as a result of PM2.5 levels that was measured at 174 micrograms per cubic meter in the early months of 2019. Linfen’s PM2.5 levels are especially notable because of the 23% increase this city experienced from 2018 to now.
Working Towards a Pollution-Free China by 2020
In 2013, Beijing’s ‘airpocalypse,’ which involved the blackening of Beijing and several other Chinese cities as a result of an immense amount of hazardous smog, captured the attention of people around the world. It has been estimated that the Winter 2013 smog crisis in Beijing was responsible for a record-high hospital admission rate that reached up to 7,000 patients per day in the Beijing Children’s Hospital alone.
In a response to the international public outcry that China received following the Winter 2013 smog crisis, the nation declared war on pollution and declared its goal of achieving pollution-free status by 2020. Shortly after, China’s congress introduced a bill that increased national spending by 19% increase, which amounts to a total of $6.4 billion USD, which will be dedicated to reducing this nation’s role in air pollution. For example, China has already dedicated a considerable amount of this money to the development of clean energy sources, such as solar panels.
In addition to spending more than twice as much as the United States has on such solar energy developments, it is also estimated that more than 65% of the solar panels distributed throughout the world are produced in China. China has also increased installations of other clean energy technologies, including wind and hydrogen energy sources.
Additional ways in which China has stepped up to reduce their impact on air pollution levels include:
- Two-year program to eliminate pollution from over 1,400 sources of potable water in rural areas
- Increase legal penalties against businesses that actively dispose of waste into waterways
- Restore river and lake ecosystems for future clean energy purposes
China’s Role in Plastic Pollution and Waste
With half of the world’s plastics being made in Asia, it is estimated that China is responsible for 29% of global plastic production. In fact, for several years, China would also import a majority of the world’s plastic scraps and process these materials into higher quality items for distribution to different manufacturers.
To continue their work towards an improved global environment, China has officially refused the receipt of all foreign plastic and many other recyclable materials. As compared to a total plastic import rate of 600,000 tons per month in 2016, it has been estimated that this number has reduced dramatically to about 30,000 tonnes each month as of 2018.
While this may appear to be a noble act, many Chinese plastic processing companies have simply relocated to other Southeast Asian nations to continue their work. Furthermore, many processing plants have continued to operate secretly and without permits throughout mainland China, even after this ban was initiated. Chinese legislatures must therefore continue their efforts to enforce the penalties associated with the illegal recycling of plastic materials.
Despite the honorable efforts that China has made over the past several years to combat air and plastic pollution, this war on pollution is far from over.
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