The skies of China’s biggest cities are notoriously painted gray. Outdoor air pollution, or “ambient particulate matter pollution,” is a documented leading health risk in China. In 2010, outdoor air pollution was the fourth highest risk factor for deaths in China—following dietary risks, high blood pressure, and smoking. According to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, in 2010 alone, outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China, totaling a loss of over 25 million healthy years of life from the Chinese people.
Since 2010, China’s air quality seems to only be worsening. In January 2013, Chinese media began a comprehensive and enthusiastic report on “what they described as the sickening and dangerous air pollution in Beijing and other parts of northern China.” Recognition of the increasingly polluted skies in China, a country that traditionally sanctions adverse press, is monumental and illustrates the no-longer ignorable state of China’s worsening air quality. In January 2013, the United States Embassy, which began reporting levels of air quality in 2008, reported that Beijing hospitals documented a surge in patient admissions for respiratory problems. Others describe the untenable levels of air pollution as the “airpocalypse.”
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that air pollution will become the major environmental cause of mortality by 2050, resulting in up to 3.6 million premature deaths each year, mostly in China and India. Furthermore, China’s worsening air quality is among the many environmental problems costing the country an exorbitant amount. In 2010, the cost of environmental degradation was about $230 billion, equaling about 3.5% of China’s gross domestic product.
While some solutions have been proposed to address China’s polluted skies, such as new fuel standards, state-owned oil and power companies will likely block any attempt to implement more stringent environmental and air quality standards policies.