It’s been a while since we saw images of smog-obscured Beijing landmarks in the news. A United Nations report explains this.
In four years, sulphur dioxide in the city was reduced by 70% and particle pollution by 36% by tackling the problem at source. Initially, old coal-powered industry and power stations were fitted with air pollution abatement systems before being replaced by cleaner facilities built to run on natural gas.
Cleaner road fuels, scrapping old vehicles and reducing solid fuel home heating helped too; all from an investment programme that reached 18bn yuan per year (£2bn) in 2017.
But China’s efforts have not stopped there. Particle pollution in the 62 Chinese cities tracked by the World Health Organization (WHO) dropped by an average of 30% between 2013 and 2016. Beijing still has a long way to go to comply with WHO guidelines. Tackling the remaining air pollution requires new, smarter policies but the Chinese example shows what can be achieved with sufficient political will.
In the UK, progress has been slower. Air pollution from traffic alongside some London roads worsened between 2010 and 2016. This underlines the need for stronger action such as the new ultra-low emission zone.