People in China could live two years longer after 'staggering' success in fight against air pollution

By Isaac M August 30, 2023

People who reside in China are set to live 2.2 years longer after “staggering” success in the war against pollution, a report claims.

New figures from the Air Quality Life Index’s annual update suggest pollution in China fell by 42.3% between 2013 and 2021 – improving air quality considerably.

In the capital Beijing, pollution plunged by 56.2% over this period – meaning someone in the city can now expect to live 4.2 years longer.

Cars move on a street on a polluted day in Beijing, China March 7, 2023. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Aggressive policies to improve conditions were solely responsible for a slight fall in global pollution over this eight-year period – and without them, levels would have increased.

A “war on pollution” was declared in 2014 – with restrictions on cars imposed in major cities, and the construction of new coal plants banned in certain areas.

While this is a rare bit of good news, the University of Chicago’s report warned pollution in China is still six times higher than guidelines from the World Health Organisation.

In Beijing, it remains three times higher than in Los Angeles, the most polluted city in the US.

Academics also stressed that improvements in life expectancy could be lost if China’s air quality returns to previous levels.

“Despite China’s progress in reducing pollution, more progress is necessary to reach the air pollution concentrations that the WHO considers a safe level,” the report said.

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The co-authors said the country still had one of the highest health burdens from pollution worldwide in terms of life years lost – and is second only to India.

Overall, just six nations are responsible for three-quarters of global air pollution: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Indonesia.

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Closer to home, the Air Quality Life Index warned that some residents in the UK are losing years off their life expectancy because particulate pollution levels in 2021 are higher relative to 1998.

All of this comes as a row rumbles on about the expansion of the controversial Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which came into force in London’s outer boroughs yesterday.

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Anti-ULEZ protesters outside Downing Street

Motorists whose cars fail to comply with emissions standards are charged £12.50 a day – with London mayor Sadiq Khan saying it was “vital” for cleaning up the capital’s air.

A City Hall report claims ULEZ has reduced toxic nitrogen dioxide concentrations by 46% in central London, but some research has questioned the policy’s effectiveness.

Critics – including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – have warned the daily charges are “going to hit working families”.


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