China and Pollution

26 Feb

Echoing a number of other blog posts, this post will focus on the growing crisis of pollution in China.

Smog is becoming a growth phenomenon, with most recently this episode of extreme pollution hitting northern China over the last 6 days. (BBC, 2014)

This thick smog is often 10 times the international safety level, which has led to the World Health Organisation representative in China, Bernhard Schwartlander, to identify this to be “Crisis”. (BBC, 2014)

This pollution is a result of a negative externality within the market, where by producers are not internalise the cost of polluting causes to the population. This there is an over provision of pollution.

These negative externalities have wide range impacts on individuals such as reduction in health and the loss of pleasure from being outside. This has led to in one case, a man from Shijiazhuanug attempting to sue the government over the high levels of air pollution. (Phillips, 2014)

The aggregate effects of this upon China, are becoming more and more concerning. The WHO have recommended in high smog episodes for people to stay in side, thus they are unable to go to work and school and not contributing economically. In October 2013, a smog episode in Harbin, Heilongjiang province reduced visibility to below 50m.(BBC, 2013)  This led to transportation coming to stand still with highway having to be shut and flights being cancelled this would have dramatically hinder economic activity in the area.

This is rapidly becoming a threat to the much idealised goal of economic growth in China and the government is beginning to act. Coal has been identified as the biggest driver of this pollution, as it a very polluting energy source yet it powers more than two-thirds of China’s Power Plants. Thus China government banned the construction of any new coal fired power plants, and to reduce current levels by 5% over 4 year with aim of replacing coal with cleaner fuels (BBC 2013). Although this goes some way to combat the issue, it will take a long time to show any effect.

During episodes of high smog people get very exasperated by the direct impacts on their daily lives.  Although the discussed negative externalities are impacting on economic development this abatement will reduce economic development in the short term, which is arguably why it is less of priority of the leadership in Beijing.

In order to sustain economic growth as well as keep the population happy it is critical this growing crisis is tackled in a drastic way.

BBC (2013) Northern China smog closes schools and airport in Harbin.  Available from [Accessed 26 February 2014]

BBC (2013) China to curb coal use to combat air pollution. Available from [Accessed 26 February 2014]

BBC (2014) China pollution: Beijing smog masks tallest building. Available from [Accessed 26 February 2014]

Phillips, T. (2014) Chinese man sues government over smog. The Telegraph, 25 Feb. Available from [Accessed 26 February 2014]


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