China recently announced planned spending of 1.7 trillion yuan ($277.5 billion) to combat air pollution across the country, but new figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection highlight the extent of the air quality challenge, particularly around the capital. From Li Jing at South China Morning Post:
Only 31 per cent of days in the [Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei] region saw air quality on par with national standards, according to the ministry. And seven cities in the region ranked among the nation’s 10 most polluted cities in that period.
Beijing, notorious for its thick smog, had “good” air quality on about 40 per cent of days in the first half of the year, according to officials, while the air quality in Shijiazhuang , the provincial capital of Hebei , was within national safety standards only 10 per cent of the time. The average concentration of PM2.5 in Shijiazhuang was 172 microns per cubic metres – nearly five times the level considered safe.
[…] The war on air pollution has been deemed a top priority by the new leadership amid mounting public discontent, but progress has been slow as the central government’s desire to cut coal consumption and production capacity in energy-intensive sectors have been met with strong opposition from local authorities who fearing an economic slowdown. [Source]
Global Times’ Zhang Xiaobo sought explanations for the striking regional differences in air quality:
In comparison, the Yangtze River Delta region saw reasonable air in more than half of the time, and the Pearl River Delta region enjoyed 80 percent of pollution-free days.
“The huge gap in terms of air quality readings between Beijing and eastern and southern cities is mainly caused by climate difference. Those cities are much nearer to the sea and the sea wind will dilute the pollution,” Zhao Zhangyuan, a research fellow with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, told the Global Times Wednesday.
[…] “The existence of too many thermal power plants and facilities for waste burning around Beijing hiked the PM2.5 readings, while the ozone, which comes from a series of reactions of nitrogen oxides, is the major by-product of vehicle emissions,” Zhao said, adding that coal-fired heating in winter should also be blamed for poor air quality. [Source]
A recent study claimed that winter coal heating alone cut northern Chinese lifespans by more five years compared with those in the south, at a total cost of over 2.5 billion years of human life.