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China pledges $275 billion over 5 years to cut record air pollution

Last week China announced it was going to spend over a quarter of a trillion dollars ($275 billion) to fight rampant and life-threatening pollution in its urban centers over the next five years. Recent decades of unparalleled economic growth has taken a drastic environmental toll in China, including record air pollution levels in Beijing. The announcement follows other news, including that the Chinese government has recently scrapped a massive 2,000 megawatt coal plant project near the cities of Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

The billion-dollar plan to cut pollution focuses on Beijing and surrounding area, China’s capital and home to some 20 million people. According to the China Daily, the plan aims to reduce pollutants by a quarter from 2012 levels in four years time, however details have not yet been released.

Still, the news is another sign that Chinese government has begun to take its pollution and environmental degradation problems more seriously. China is the world’s largest coal consumer and it’s likely that coal power plants will be among the targets. In fact, in a decision that would have been impossible even a few years ago, China recently cancelled a major coal plant due to locals concerns of rising pollution issues.

A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) estimated that burning coal will strip some 2.5 billion years from the people of China who live north of the Huai River. In northern China, the government provided free coal for burning, exacerbating pollution problems across a wide-swathe of the country.

Emissions from coal burning have been linked to cancer, heart attacks, asthma and other respiratory problems. Coal is also the world’s most carbon-intensive energy source, which is driving global warming.

Beijing in August 2005 Left side: after it had rained for two days. Right side: smog in Beijing during what would otherwise be a sunny day. Photo by: Bobak Ha'Eri
Beijing in August 2005 Left side: after it had rained for two days. Right side: smog in Beijing during what would otherwise be a sunny day. Photo by: Bobak Ha’Eri/Creative Commons 2.5.

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