Earlier this month, China announced what is being called an ‘ambitious’ plan to reduce air pollution. The plan was summarized in a recent New York Times article:
Under the new plan, concentrations of fine particulate matter must be reduced by 25 percent in the Beijing-Tianjian-Hebei area in the north, 20 percent in the Yangtze River Delta in the east and 15 percent in the Pearl River Delta in the south, compared with 2012 levels.
All other cities must reduce the levels of larger particulate matter, known as PM 10, by 10 percent. It is unclear why the plan calls for a looser standard for other cities, since the fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, is considered deadlier than PM 10 because it can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream
The plan said Beijing must also bring its average concentration of PM 2.5 down to 60 micrograms per cubic meter or less. That would be two and a half times the recommended exposure limit set by the World Health Organization.
While reducing air pollution to a level that is still 2.5 times the WHO’s recommended exposure limit may seem like dubious progress, it should be remembered that last January, during Beijing’s ‘airpocalypse’, the concentration of PM 2.5 reached a level 40 times the WHO limit. And air pollution levels were, until very recently, still being treated as a ‘state secret’ by a government paranoid that environmental criticism would undermine its industrialization strategy and GDP growth. So, two cheers for a plan that exceeds international standards by only 2.5 times!
An additional feature of the plan, according to the South China Morning Post, is the monthly publication of an air pollution hall of shame: the ten worst polluting cities. While it’s doubtful that shaming municipal governments into meeting standards will really work, since no one ever seems compelled to meet environmental standards in China anyway, it’s at least a significant nod toward the kind of transparency that pollution monitoring in China desperately needs.