It’s called air-pocalypse. This phenomenon of air pollution that strikes China every year and envelops large cities in toxic fog. Shangai, Peki, Harbin, Chengdu and even Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, are heavily affected.
There are two main causes : first, electricity production, especially to heat the population in winter. Especially since 70% of China’s energy is produced from coal in more than 1000 power plants throughout the country. A record consumption that burns half of the world’s pollution every year.
But there is also the explosion of automobile traffic. Within 7 years, the number of cars in the country tripled from 21 million in 2005 to 74 million in 2011. Today, a car makes its debut in the Chinese fleet every two seconds. As a result, emissions of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and ammonia are constantly increasing in some regions.
However, the public is particularly concerned about fine particles. The most formidable ones are called PM 2.5. They measure 2.5 micrometers, infiltrate the lungs and their low concentration has recently set all records. In Beijing, up to 671 micrograms of these particles per cubic metre of air were recorded. In Harbin, further north, the 1000 micrograms per cubic metre were crossed. This is 40 times more than the 25 microgram threshold recommended by the World Health Organization.
Heavy consequences and government actions
The consequences are terrible. In 2010, external pollution is estimated to have caused more than one million premature deaths, largely due to lung cancer. On a global scale, one in three people who die prematurely because of pollution is Chinese. In the face of this health catastrophe, the government promises measures. In Beijing or Shanghai, for example, the number of new registrations is limited to 240 or 100,000 per year.
Concerning industry, the authorities promise to reduce these most polluting emissions by 30% in 5 years. As for coal, its share of energy production is expected to increase from 70 to 65% this year.
But these timid promises leave people skeptical because Beijing faces major industries and local governments for whom improving air quality is an obstacle to economic development.
Meanwhile, China continues to cough…