Air Clean Up

  • Should London Follow in China's Footsteps to Combat Pollution?

Should London Follow in China's Footsteps to Combat Pollution?

Jun 19 2018 Read 1174 Times

Whisper it quietly, but the UK could well learn a lot from China’s approach to its air pollution crisis. Although recognised as one of the most polluted countries on the planet for decades, China has recently taken a proactive approach to cleaning up its act and combating poor air quality.

With London ranked as the third most polluted capital city in Europe, it could do well to take a page out of the Chinese book. Of course, simply copying solutions that have worked in places like Beijing and Shanghai won’t work, but Mayor Sadiq Khan and his team should take inspiration from the progress made by Chinese authorities.

China turning over a new leaf

It wasn’t so long ago that China was viewed as the bad boy of air quality and polluting practices. In 2011, it was reported that Chinese power plants emit as much nitrous oxides (NOx) as all the passenger cars in the world and many of the top 20 cities for air pollution were found in China. Even as recently as last year, Beijing issued its first ever red alert for air quality.

However, it’s exactly that recognition of the problem which has acted as the catalyst for Chinese improvement. Over the last few years, China has entered a new era in air quality monitoring and has invested more money than anywhere else in the world in cleaning up its act. It has certainly paid off.

A healthy return on investment

In the nation’s capital, the government imposed fines on city authorities of over £20 million in 2015 for its air pollution problems. Since that time, levels of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) have fallen in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region by an average of 27% between 2013 and 2016. PM2.5 is considered one of the deadliest contaminants on the planet due to its microscopic size and its ability to infiltrate the bloodstream.

The impressive results have come about due to a number of different proposals. The country has increasingly moved away from fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy and also has the highest rate of electric vehicles (EVs) of any country, having sold 777,000 new models last year. That’s over half of the 1.2 EVs sold in 2017 and projections estimate that there will be 35 million of them on Chinese streets by 2025.

Not one-size-fits-all

Of course, it would be foolish to suggest London can simply replicate those results in its own environs, but encouraging the use of EVs would be a good start. At present, the city’s biggest source of pollution is its fleet of diesel and petrol vehicles; heavy congestion in the CBD leads to a proliferation of pollution in its airways.

Another method of reducing pollution could be to encourage greater use of public transport, either through reduced consumer costs or levies on private vehicles. While Khan has suggested copying the Paris model of introducing car-free days, the plans have yet to come to fruition. In any case, the UK could benefit from emulating Chinese efforts to fight air pollution, to the benefit of its eight million residents and the millions of tourists which flock to it each year.

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