China has announced that it will invest 1.7 trillion yuan ($277 billion) over the next five years to fight the dangerous and rapidly increasing air pollution that has developed as a consequence of China’s rapid economic rise. The news comes from the U.S. edition of China Daily, citing the measure’s approval by the State Council last month.
The bold initiative, dubbed the Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan, was proposed by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and will run through 2017. It will give priority to the country’s northern regions – particularly Beijing, Tianjin, and Heibei province – which are the main sources of the vast majority of dangerous air pollution.
The government’s new plan ultimately seeks to reduce air emissions by 25 percent compared to 2012 levels.
“The thick smog and haze that covered large areas of the country in January has focused public attention on this issue,” said Zhao Hualin, a senior official at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in the China Daily report.
The main target of the cleaner-air initiative is PM 2.5 and smaller particulate matter. These tiny particles are especially deadly – they’re known to collect in the lungs and cause respiratory problems and other serious illnesses.
The measure was likely spurned by Chinese public anger over the constant smog that many residents must endure on a daily basis. But some are skeptical that the costly new measures will bring any real change.
“Social unrest over environmental complaints is becoming common across China, to the government's alarm. Authorities have tried to assuage anger with measures that included empowering courts to mete out the death penalty in serious pollution cases,” wrote Scientific American. “But results have been mixed. Enforcement has been a problem at the local level, where governments often rely on tax receipts from polluting industries under their jurisdiction.”
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS) earlier this year found that particulate air pollution “is causing the 500 million residents of Northern China to lose more than 2.5 billion life years of life expectancy.”
A broader study, published earlier this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that each year, 2.1 million premature deaths worldwide can be linked to poor air quality. East Asia was the most heavily affected, topping the list at more than 1 million early deaths due to PM 2.5 air pollution.