College of Chicago researcher says China’s struggle on air pollution is remarkably profitable

“China’s air pollution reductions explain more than three-quarters of the global decline in pollution since 2013,” a University of Chicago researcher said in a recent interview with the People’s Daily Online.

The war on pollution

In 2014, the Chinese government declared a “war on pollution” to fight pollution with the same determination that China had shown in its fight against poverty. In 2021, the average concentration of PM2.5 in Beijing dropped by 63% compared to 2013, an average annual reduction of around 8%. He Guojun, professor and research director at the China Center at the University of Chicago Energy Policy Institute (EPIC), told People’s Daily Online that China’s war on pollution has been an extraordinary success.

Compared to the process of reducing pollution in the United States, Mr. He said, “The United States began to focus on reducing pollution in the early 1970s, and it took several decades and recessions to achieve the same reductions in pollution that China achieved in eight years.”

At the same time, He said his team estimates that these reductions in air pollution should increase the average life expectancy of Chinese people by another two years, if they can be sustained. In addition to living longer, there will also be significant declines in medical spending for pollution-related illnesses and household spending on air purifiers and related equipment. “Overall, people can enjoy a better quality of life through a better environment,” he added.

A wind farm in Dingxi, Gansu Province (Northwest China). (Photo/Xinhua)

An ambitious and welcome carbon commitment

In an attempt to pursue green growth, China has announced that it will strive to limit its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. According to He, China’s carbon strategy targets are very ambitious. and its pledge to achieve carbon neutrality is well received internationally.

Mr. He highlighted that, by comparison, the European Union needs to reduce its carbon emissions by around 4 billion tonnes, while the United States needs to eliminate around 6 billion tonnes of carbon to achieve carbon neutrality, both with relatively longer timescales. than China to reduce its carbon emissions. During this transition process, he said that China’s entire industrial production will be revolutionized and its importance will be comparable to China’s economic reforms over the past four decades.

In order to achieve carbon neutrality, China has taken active steps to promote renewable energy. Today, China has the world’s largest renewable energy project and is also the world’s largest producer of solar energy. In 2020, China built more wind power capacity than the rest of the world combined in the previous year.

He concluded that China’s investment in renewable energy has been “huge” over the past two decades and praised China’s efforts, saying, “I really think this strategy is essential to balance the environment and the economy.” At the same time, he noted that the development of renewable energy will be essential for China to meet its carbon cap and carbon neutrality targets.

Experiences that other countries can learn from

What can the rest of the world, especially developing countries, learn from China’s pollution control path? Mr. He offered three points. First, reducing pollution requires coordinated efforts between different regions. The central government must therefore be willing and able to mobilize resources to combat pollution. Second, China’s pollution control plans are comprehensive and target all sources of pollution, while in many other countries policies tend to focus only on a few industries or sectors. Finally, China is using powerful stimulus measures to encourage local governors to improve their performance.

Mr. He also noted that China’s approach is very effective. However, the implementation of strong control policies often ignores the large differences in abatement costs associated with different sources of pollution, and sometimes local governments apply policies uniformly without regard to the reality to control pollution.

“One solution is to introduce more market-based instruments (like emissions trading, carbon taxes, etc.) to reduce emissions,” he said.

To address global environmental challenges, he called on the world to work together in these areas, especially in terms of cooperation between the United States and China. He hopes the two countries can carefully manage their differences and continue to promote cooperation in these areas. “There is simply no other way (other than cooperation),” he said.

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