One fine day in China?

The poor air quality in China is not merely an environmental issue. The fog and smog has brought about health problems as well as dreadful effects on the country’s economy, international image and cross-border relationships

TELEVISION reporter Chai Jing’s (柴靜) documentary, Under the Dome (穹頂之下), unveiled catastrophic air pollution in the mainland. The report had been viewed tens of millions of times on the web before being taken off major mainland video websites. But how bad is air quality in the mainland really?

Effects of fog and smog
Quality of life
CHINA Meteorological Administration (中國氣象局) figures showed that the days of fog and smog in 2013 nationwide reached 29.9 days. That was the highest level in 52 years. Over 100 medium and big cities in 25 provinces were affected.

Fog and smog harm the respiratory, central nervous and cardio-vascular systems of the human body and increase the risk of lung cancer. The World Health Organization (世界衛生組織) said outdoor air pollution caused 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010.

THE Chinese Academy of Social Science (中國社會科學院) said ‘fog and smog’ and ‘home prices’ are the main factors affecting the liveability of a city. Cities such as Beijing (北京) and Tianjin (天津) have low liveability rankings as they are heavily affected by fog and smog.

Foreign talents are reluctant to go to work in the mainland because of poor air quality. Multi-national companies in the mainland therefore have to offer higher salaries and better medical benefits to recruit from overseas.

International image
SOUTH Koreans (南韓人) are blaming China for being the source of smog affecting their country. The Korean government said it had to increase its anti-smog budget by six times for this reason. Some officials there are proposing to claim compensation from China.

Drastic measures were taken to combat air pollution in Beijing during the APEC conference period in November 2014. Polluting operations in the vicinity of the venue were suspended, cars were allowed the use the roads only on alternate days, and the bulk of public bus services were stopped. Schools were also closed. The results were clear and immediate. The city saw blue skies again, and the people fondly called it ‘APEC blue’.

LIAONING (遼寧省) imposed pollution penalties at city level, and eight cities that failed to reach air quality standards were fined a total of 50 million yuan (HK$63 million). The fines were paid by polluting companies, and used for combating pollution. However, some feared that after paying the fine, the polluting companies might feel that they can now continue to pollute with a clear conscience.

Developing renewable energy sources is a policy of both developing and developed countries alike in recent years. Apart from reducing pollution, viable alternative energy sources could also ensure stable long-term energy supply. This would shield the economy from the debilitating effects of oil price fluctuations.

Watch the documentary
Chai’s documentary is still available on YouTube. Type‘ 穹頂之下’ or‘ 柴靜’ to find the film.