The Impacts of Smog in China

19 Feb

The majority of China’s electricity is currently produced from fossil fuels, 80% of which is produced from the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal. China is the largest consumer of coal in the world, consuming about half of the world’s supply each year. Therefore it has become very dependent on this source of power for its growing energy demand.

Emissions from China’s coal plants are responsible for approximately a quarter of a million premature deaths in 2011 and are threatening the health of hundreds of thousands of children in China. Studies have shown that in 2011 smog was responsible for 320,000 children and 61,000 adults suffering and being diagnosed with asthma. The pollution in China has become so bad that it has caused an eight-year-old girl to develop lung cancer. Doctors insisted that the girl had developed lung cancer because of the harmful pollutants around her home as she lived near a busy road.

The effects on health from smog have become so intense that a hospital in southwest China has opened a clinic for patients who are suffering from symptoms related to smog. The dedicated clinic treated more than 100 patients within its first week of opening which highlights the vast number of people suffering from smog related illnesses. The most common symptoms include coughs and sore or itching throats, as well as heart disease or asthma, which is either triggered or made worse by the high levels of smog.

The growing concern of the impacts of smog being publicised across different media platforms has sparked fear amongst residents in cities in China. There has been a huge increase in the sales of face masks and air purifiers, leading to many retailers becoming out of stock due to residents desperately trying to protect themselves from the harmful smog.

Levels of smog were so high at the beginning of 2014 that China’s weather forecasters had to ban firework displays that are traditionally shown at Lunar New Year. Fireworks and firecrackers can release a large quantity of toxic gas and emissions such as sulphur dioxide which can lead to intense air pollution.

Pollution from China has been found to travel in large quantities across the Pacific Ocean to the United States. The U.S National Academy of Sciences said cities in the US such as Los Angeles received an extra day of smog a year from carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide from China’s factories for exports. Neighbouring countries of China, such as South Korea and Japan have regularly suffered air pollution from emissions from China in the last 20 years as environmental regulations have been sacrificed for industrial and economic growth. Trans-boundary pollution has been an issue in international climate change negotiations for several years. China argues that developed nations such as the US and the UK should take some of the responsibility for China’s harmful emissions because they originate from the production of goods demanded by people in developed countries.

There have been some wacky and creative solutions to try and overcome to smog problem. These solutions include producing artificial rain to wash away air pollution, sucking air pollution up with giant vacuum cleaners, bicycles that purify air as you cycle and mini-filters to put in your nose. However, these solutions have many flaws and are not enough to make a change. Scientists stress that the only real way to solve China’s pollution problems is to cut down emissions from its power plants, factories and vehicles. But this is easier said than done.

Chinese leaders recently came up with a $280 billion plan that involves limiting coal use and illegalising high-polluting vehicles. In September, China said it would slash coal consumption and shut down polluting factories, though experts say that implementing these measures will be tough. The Chinese government launched a plan worth £180 billion to clean up power stations and vehicle fumes. A large push for renewable energy including hydropower, which currently produces 15% of the electricity in China, is designed, in part, to help replace power generation by coal, which is the cheapest but most dirty fuel.

Although the growth of coal consumption is slowing down, 570 new coal power plants are either planned or already being built. If all these new coal-fired power stations are built it could lead to a further 32,000 premature deaths each year. Due to China’s growing demand for energy it is most likely that coal use will continue to rise in China.

World Nuclear Association (2014) Nuclear Power in China [Online] Available at–Nuclear-Power/  [Accessed 19/02/2014]

Phillips, T. (2014) ‘Toxic smog threatens millions of Chinese lives‘. The Telegraph [Online] 18/02. Available at [Accessed 19/02/2014]

Simpson, P. (2013) ‘China’s pollution so bad it ’causes eight-year-old to develop lung cancer”. Mail Online [Online] 05/11 [Accessed 19/02/2014]

Wan, W. (2014) ‘China’s air pollution prompts creative, sometimes wacky, solutions‘. The Washington Post [Online] 26/01. Available at [Accessed 19/02/2014]

Watt, L. (2013) ‘Chinese Hospital Opens Smog Clinic To Combat Worsening Air Quality‘. Huffington Post [Online] 18/12. Available at [Accessed 19/02/2014]

Macfie, N. (2014) ‘China’s Pollution Wafting Across Pacific To The U.S., Study Finds‘. Huffington Post [Online] 21/01. Available at [Accessed 19/02/2014]

Fernandez, C. (2014) ‘China’s Smog Prompts Call For Ban On Lunar New Year Fireworks‘. Huffington Post [Online] 29/01. Available at [Accessed 19/02/2014]

Shukman, D. (2014) ‘Desolation of smog: Tackling China’s air quality crisis‘. BBC News [Online] 07/01. Available at [Accessed 19/02/2014]


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