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According to the latest statistics, between 2013 and 2020, China has managed to reduce the number of unhealthy particles in its atmosphere by 40%.

These figures are published in the June 2022 report of the Energy Policy Institute, Department of Energy Research, University of Chicago, USA. The institute uses satellites to study air pollution.

There is no precedent for such a reduction in air pollution in such a short period of time. The fact is that the United States was trying to achieve this goal with the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, and it took 30 years to reduce air pollution by 40%.

The question arises as to how China has accomplished this feat in such a short time.

To answer this question, we must first go to 2013, when air pollution in China reached its peak. During the last decade, whenever a picture came from China, the cities were so polluted even during the day that the sun could not be seen. But this thing is part of the past now.

The average rate of MP2.5 particles in China's atmosphere that year was 52.4 micrograms per cubic meter. The rate was ten times higher than the (World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended limit today.

MP2.5 refers to the tiny particles that are produced by burning the natural fuel (coal) extracted from the earth. These particles are very bad for health because they have a great ability to enter our respiratory system.

According to Krista Hesenkop, director of EPIC at the University of Chicago, the amount of air pollution in Beijing at the time was commonly referred to as "doomsday pollution." This is the term we use to warn people of the dangers of pollution.

The situation at the time was so bad that the Chinese government declared a national war on pollution.

Thus, in the last days of 2013, the government launched a project called the National Air Quality Action Plan, which allocated a whopping 270 billion dollars over the next four years to reduce air pollution. In the years to come, Beijing City Council in particular received an additional 120 billion dollars.

War Against Coal

Under the National Action Plan, special measures were planned with the aim of reducing pollution by 35% in the next four years.

In this regard, the government's biggest enemy was the coal that made China grow so fast in the last decade of the 20th century, and it was the biggest source of energy for China. In the years leading up to the action plan, China banned new coal-fired power plants in its most polluted cities and forced existing power plants to use gas instead of coal. In 2017 alone, 27 coal mines were shut down in Shaanxi, China's largest coal-producing province and in 2018, the city's last coal-fired power plant in Beijing was shut down, and the government abandoned plans to build 103 new power plants in the country. Although coal is still the largest source of electricity in China, its share, which was 67.4 percent in 2013, fell to 56.8 percent in 2020. The Chinese government has also stepped up plans to generate energy from other sources (hydropower, etc.) to further reduce air pollution from coal.

China has taken such rapid steps that in 2017, a quarter of the country's total electricity began to be generated from untapped natural resources. In this area, China has surpassed the United States, where, according to 2017 figures, 18% of electricity was being generated from recyclable sources.

Over the past decades, China has also worked tirelessly in the field of nuclear energy, doubling the energy generated from nuclear power plants between 2016 and 2020 and allowing the country to generate 47 gigawatts of electricity. The government plans to set up 20 new nuclear power plants in the country by 2035, and the country will start getting 180 gigawatts of electricity from nuclear power plants. That would be twice the amount of current US nuclear energy.

Restrictions on cars

To reduce pollution, China has also taken steps to reduce iron and steel production. This can be estimated from the fact that in the short period between 2016 and 2017 alone, China reduced its iron and steel production by 115 million tons.

Obviously, after this move, all eyes were on the owners of petrol and diesel vehicles. The plan limits the number of cars that can hit the road at the same time in Beijing, Shanghai, and other major cities, and the number of new cars registered each year. However, the move did not reduce the number of cars on the roads, and according to official figures, the number of vehicles rose from 126 million in 2013 to 273 million in 2020.

However, the government continued its campaign against high-polluting vehicles and by the end of 2017, the country had suspended the production of 553 domestic and foreign cars that caused a lot of pollution.

Pressure on Big Cities

"Our estimate is that if the Chinese continue to breathe in more clean air today & in the coming years, this can add two years to their average age," said the EPIC director.

Hessenkop added that between 2013 and 2020, China's major cities have managed to reduce their air pollution by 40 percent. Harmful particles in the air were reduced by 44% in Shanghai, 50% in Ganzhou, 49% in Shenzhen, and 56% in Beijing. "Today, the residents of these cities breathe in a much cleaner atmosphere than before."

After the four-year plan of 2013, two more three-year plans were made to further reduce air pollution. The first of these plans came to light in 2018 and the second in 2020. These projects have really helped to reduce air pollution.

On the other hand, restrictions imposed on the coronavirus epidemic between 2018 and 2020 also help reduce industrial production and transport which help to decrease pollution.

When we asked if these factors did not affect the results of their research, Hessenkop replied that they had not formally studied the effects of the Corona epidemic on pollution.

However, he reassured us that China's 2020 figures seem close to reality as there has been a steady decline in pollution since 2014. That's why they don't see much role of Covid-19 in this regard.

China’s Comparison with rest of the world

But not everything that shines is gold.

The steps that China has taken in recent years are in place, but it has a lot of work to do to clean up the air in its cities. According to the latest data from satellites, the average pollution rate in Beijing today is 37.9 micrograms per cubic meter, which is much higher than New York (6.3) and many other major cities in the world. The rate is 9 in London, 6.9 in Madrid, and 20.7 in Mexico.

On the other hand, research by the University of Chicago says that people living in the Chinese capital will live an average of four years and four months longer than in 2013, following the recent decline in unhealthy particles.

The situation in many other countries is still much worse than in China. For example, in some parts of the year, the particle rate in New Delhi reaches 107.6 micrograms per cubic meter, which is 20 times higher than the average recommended by the World Health Organization (5 micrograms per cubic meter).

Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan are the countries with the most unbearable air, while China, which was among the top five countries in the world in the last decade, today (31.6) according to the latest figures is ranked 9th.

The average rate of harmful particles in the United States is 7.1 micrograms per cubic meter. Latin American countries, Guatemala, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Peru are among the countries with the highest air pollution rates. The rate in these countries is between 20 and 30, while in other countries the rate is usually between 10 and 20 micrograms per cubic meter.

The truth is that many people on the planet can't say for sure that they really breathe clean air because 97% of the world's population lives in places where air quality is lower than the World Health Organization's standard.

According to Hesenkop, the polluted air we breathe shortens our life span. "We estimated that the pollution is reducing our lives by more than two years worldwide."

"The burden on our lives is greater than the burden of HIV / AIDS, malaria or war."

Hesenkoop concludes that the best way to reduce air pollution is not to advance in technology but to promote the idea at the political and social level that money should be provided for this work and strictly follow policies to keep the air clean.

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