In China, air pollution on the rise for the first time in ten years

China's air quality has deteriorated this year for the first time since the country launched its "war on pollution" campaign in 2013, according to a study released Friday (December 22)

In China, air pollution on the rise for the first time in ten years

China's air quality has deteriorated this year for the first time since the country launched its "war on pollution" campaign in 2013, according to a study released Friday (December 22). “2023 marks the first year where the national average level of [fine particles] PM2.5 in China increases from one year to the next” since this date, notes this study from the independent institute Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

This increase is explained by a “general increase in emissions of human origin”, coupled with “unfavorable weather conditions”, underlines this organization located in Finland, which was based in particular on official records. The year 2023 was marked by the lifting of the drastic restrictions put in place by China after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused a sharp slowdown in activity.

The country launched a “war on pollution” campaign in 2013, closing dozens of coal-fired power plants and displacing heavy industry units, in order to combat the smog choking most of its large cities, particularly in winter.

This campaign has until now resulted in a continuous drop in PM2.5 recorded in the air, without however always meeting the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Carbon neutrality targeted in 2060

In October and November, an episode of acute pollution in northern China led authorities to ask residents to restrict their outdoor activities. WHO standards were then exceeded by more than 20 times in Beijing, according to the independent organization IQAir.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prolonged exposure to excessive levels of PM2.5 can trigger strokes, heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases. China remains very dependent on coal, a source of PM2.5 but also CO2 emissions, the country being the largest gross emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

Beijing aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 at the latest and is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060, but the recent green light for new coal-fired power plants has cast doubt on its ability to achieve these goals. . At the beginning of December, a consortium of climate researchers estimated the increase in Chinese emissions linked to fossil fuels at 4% in 2023.