Beijing Residents Will Have to Wait 16 Years to Breathe Healthy Air

Pollution in China's capital is now near a level unlivable for humans.

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Just a few more years of this. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Over the past six years, Beijing has seen at least 1,812 days of “unhealthy” air quality, and that trend isn’t going to get better any time soon. Pan Tao, head of the Beijing Municipal Research Institute of Environmental Protection, estimates that air pollution in the capital won’t reach safe levels until at least 2030.

China’s president Xi Jinping has called air pollution the “most prominent challenge” Beijing faces. Foreign firms are paying their workers “hardship” salaries to be posted in the city. In February a report from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said that pollution in the capital is “near a level that is no longer livable for human beings.”

As a result, China is trying to improve air quality however it can, from deploying pollution-zapping drones to shutting down outdoor barbecues and planting 667 hectares (1,648 acres) of trees, as well as more serious moves to shift coal-powered energy production westward, shutter or fine polluting factories, and curb nearby steel production. The government has also announced a 10 billion yuan ($1.65 billion) fund devoted to cleaning up the country’s air overall.

Still, Beijing’s levels of PM2.5—the most dangerous kind of particulate matter, which is small enough to the bloodstream—won’t reach 35 micrograms per cubic meter for another 16 years, according to Pan, speaking at a symposium on urban environment in Beijing on July 1st.

Last year, Beijing’s PM2.5 levels averaged 89.5 micrograms per cubic meter—several times higher than the US Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization recommendations“It takes time and effort to turn the ship around,” Pan said.

 

About the Author

  • Lily Kuo is a reporter at Quartz covering emerging markets.