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China’s Efforts to Cut Pollution in Beijing May Make it Worse

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Many rich countries that appear to have cleaned up their act environmentally have actually outsourced manufacturing to countries with laxer standards – resulting in more pollution overall. Now the same thing is happening within China itself.

The country is trying to reduce the dire air pollution in the capital region that includes Beijing. In this megalopolis of 110 million people, average particulate levels are 10 times higher than the safe limit according to the World Health Organization.

Chinese officials are moving highly polluting industries to other regions, but Bin Chen of Beijing Normal University and colleagues found this will actually lead to more air pollution overall because of lower environmental standards and less efficient technologies in these regions. The calculated that the increase in harmful particulate emissions outside the capital region will be 1.6 times the emissions reduction in the capital region

What’s more, overall carbon dioxide emissions will be 3.6 times higher, and water consumption will be 2.9 times higher. “These environmental problems are linked together,” says Chen.

Read more: China’s climate comeback: How the top polluter is cleaning up

In theory having more particulates spread more thinly over less densely populated areas might lessen the over health impact, but the team did not assess this. What they did show is that prevailing winds will often blow some of the extra particulate pollution in neighbouring provinces back into the capital region, partially or completely countering the reductions from moving factories elsewhere.

The team say the results show that policies for reducing air pollution must be designed across regions, and take account of the links with other environmental issues such as climate change and water usage. The fragmented nature of China’s regulatory system makes this difficult. For example, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has different departments for water, air and soil.

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