“I’VE never seen Beijing like this,” said Emmanuel Macron, the French president, beneath an unaccustomed cerulean sky at the end of a recent visit. The next day Greenpeace East Asia, an NGO, showed that his impression was accurate. It found that concentrations of PM 2.5—the smallest polluting particles, which pose the greatest health risks—were 54% lower in the Chinese capital during the fourth quarter of 2017 than during the same period of 2016. Concentrations of PM 2.5 in 26 cities across northern China, the province-sized metropoles of Beijing and Tianjin, were one third lower. China genuinely has reduced its notorious air pollution. How has it done it and at what cost?
The country has had draconian anti-pollution measures since 2013, when it introduced a set of prohibitions called the national action plan on air pollution. This imposed a nationwide cap on coal use, divided up among provinces, so that Beijing (for instance) had to reduce its coal consumption by 50% between 2013 and 2018. The plan banned new coal-burning capacity...Continue reading