China Air Pollution Crisis

Over the past few months, many cities in China have registered the worst air pollution concentrations of the year. As we can tell from the Berkeley Earth map, a successive, thick, and toxic smog blanketed Northern, Eastern and Central China (Figure 1). Because of the reduced visibility thousands of flights have been canceled and many highways have been shut down. According to the Shanghaiist, China has issued the first red alert for “severe fog” of  2017. Last week, for example, the city of Shijiazhuang recorded air quality levels of 1000 PM2.5. The World Health Organization says anything over 25 PM2.5 is considered as a health hazard.

Figure 1
The “war on pollution,” issued by the Chinese government in 2014, has already made some changes in terms of improving air quality. According to Greenpeace, the average PM2.5 concentration has shown a declining trend since 2014 (Figure 2). However, since 2016, smog levels have been increasing again. So, why is China’s air pollution on the rise again?

Figure 2
According to Greenpeace, the heavy industry is the most harmful factor. The steelmaking heartland of China, to the south of Beijing, has contributed greatly to air pollution. As we can see from Figure 3, the output of coke, crude steel, and cement in the country began to increase in the spring of 2016,  matched with increasing levels of PM2.5. This situation is especially bad during winter when demand for heating increases and air pollution levels spike as coal-fired plants are the main source of electricity. This coal-heavy industry leaves little room for renewables.
Figure 3


Xuewei Chen

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