According to a report released by the International Energy Agency, pollution is now the fourth-leading cause of human death, behind heart disease, poor diet and smoking. The global death toll for pollution-related deaths is estimated at 6.5 million with China making up a sizable portion of that number.
South China Morning Post reports that outdoor air pollution has been linked to approximately one million premature deaths in China every year. Moreover, nearly 97% of the population is regularly exposed to toxic concentrations of PM2.5 particles, and repeated exposure to these pollutants could shorten life expectancy by up to 25 months.
The use of coal and other organic materials in industrial plants and as a source of fuel in homes are the biggest contributors to China’s pollution problem. Household burning alone has killed 1.2 million people, the report revealed.
At a press conference for the International Energy Agency, Executive Director Fatih Birol said: “Clean air is a basic human right that most of the world’s population lacks….No country – rich or poor – can claim that the task of tackling air pollution is complete. But governments are far from powerless to act and need to act now.”
This is good news for China, which has been making increased efforts since last year when Beijing issued its first “red alert” for hazardous pollution levels. “Actually what is happening in China right now is quite positive. [The red alert] is a sign of progress in government’s understanding of how they should react and respond to these extreme conditions,” Li Yan of Greenpeace in China told BBC. Of course, in February, Beijing raised its air quality standards, for issuing red alerts.
According to the IEA report, China is projected to continue to make improvements in its pollution emissions and shift towards renewable sources of energy by 2040. So China is doing something right.
China’s goals to begin curbing the alarming output of air pollution are attainable. In preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, pollution levels dropped following state-instituted regulations on pollution output from factories and cars. As a result, Beijing babies conceived during that period were healthier and bigger at birth. China is again putting industrial production on hold in preparation for the 2016 G20 Summit to take place in nearby Hangzhou during the month of August.
While these are quick fixes for China’s pervasive pollution problem, it does prove that changes, if implemented, could vastly improve the quality of living and lower daily exposure to air pollution across the nation. Attainable goals, like reducing overall pollution levels by 2-3 percent next year, are slow but steady steps in the right direction if China wants to see clear blue skies once more.
Although long nose hair has the potential to a inspire a host of experimental fashion, it’s time China got its pollution in check and started setting an example for other developing countries in the region that also rely on coal and organic materials for fuel.
By Mary Rosea