Air pollution is a complex problem that affects most countries worldwide. However, the contributions to it are not distributed equally. Few countries are responsible for the majority of global emissions. China is a leader among them, influencing the global environmental situation and fuelling climate change. What are the reasons behind it? Let’s dig into China’s political and economic situation in order to understand its role in the global air pollution problem.
For over a decade, China has been the world’s largest annual emitter of greenhouse gases. Regardless of some pro-ecological alternatives and investments in alternative energy sources, the country’s emissions keep growing, contrary to the worldwide trends.
That seems to be the most worrying part. The other main global polluters, for instance, the US, have been successfully pursuing the reduction of greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions. That’s not the case with China, which continues to fulfill its growing demand for energy with fossil fuels.
When you take a look at the air quality map, you may notice that the air pollution in China doesn’t put it in the lead of the most polluted countries in the world. The average annual air pollution index of China is lower than those of Bangladesh, Pakistan, or India. The reason might be simple: in these countries, a big part of particulate matter comes from agricultural burning, which is not a big problem in China. Nevertheless, the country’s air quality is still low.
The urban areas are obviously the most affected. For decades, Beijing was the Chinese leader in air pollution, but that has been changing in recent years. The air quality fluctuates depending on the weather conditions and other factors. However, there are some Chinese cities that notoriously climb the air pollution charts – Wuhan, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Guangzhou, among others. They’re all densely populated metropolises that struggle with smog on a daily basis.
There are few reasons why China’s contributions to air pollutions are so high. First – the country’s population. Even though the birth rate is falling and the one-child policy is long gone, China is still the most populous country worldwide, with over 1,4 billion inhabitants. That means its energy demands are high. China is rich in fossil fuel resources and doesn’t resist exploiting them even though it also invests in green energy sources (mainly solar). As a result, large amounts o greenhouse gases with particulate matter reach the atmosphere.
Another reason is China’s role in global trade. The country is the main exporter of refined petroleum and petroleum gas. It provides all the world with the components irreplaceable in various industries, from technology to solar energy. All these industries consume a lot of energy, and at the same time, they stand behind the industrial emissions of polluting gases.
All these emissions could be cut – at least partially – by switching to green energy. There is no doubt that China has the tools to become a renewable energy leader on a global scale. And, in recent years, it has indeed taken few significant steps towards the green transformation. Building giant solar farms and fully sustainable cities are some initiatives worth mentioning. Some changes financed by the World Bank have already resulted in a noticeable drop in coal consumption.
If this clean-energy-oriented politics continue in the nearest future, we can hope that the global efforts to stop climate change will be in vain. Without China – the major greenhouse gas emittent – it will be difficult to achieve.
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