Haze in Beijing, China


Hazein Beijing, China

Therapid economic development in China in the last two and a halfdecades has lifted more than half a billion Chinese out of poverty. Nonetheless, this extraordinary achievement has come at a big cost onthe Chinese population and the world at large. This economicprogression has rested on heavily polluting firms and factories thatburn coal for power (Wang &ampLiu, 2014). Research conducted by theChinese Academy of Social Science has indicated that the problem offog and haze in Chinese cities has hit a record level, and at themoment China is suffering one of the worst air pollution problemssince 1961 (Chinese Academy of Science, 2012).

Thetrouble of air pollution in China was first observed in the 1970s,when suspended particles and emission of sulphur (IV) oxide were amajor problem (Chinese Academy of Science, 2012). In the decade thatfollowed, major cities in the Northern part of China started toreceive acid rain, mainly contributed by the sulphur iv oxide fromburning coal in the factories, that accounts for about 70% of theenergy consumption in China (Wang &ampLiu, 2014). In the 1990s, thenumber of automobile on highways increased rapidly, particularly inmedium-sized and large urban centre. In Beijing, there was anincrease of automobile on the roads by a power of 10, from half amillion to five million in 2012 (Chinese Academy of Science,2012).Compared to other developed nations, the level of emission byautomobiles in China is higher because China has lower emissionstandards for cars. In this light, the rapid increase in number ofautomobile and the rapid development of industries in large citieshas resulted to poor air quality, suspended particles and nitrogenoxides in the air (Wang &ampLiu, 2014).

Scientisthave given signals that the level of air pollution in China is so badthat it resembles a nuclear winter, dawdling photosynthesis in plantsand potentially inflict a blow to the country`s food production (Wang&ampLiu, 2014). In the past few years, Beijing and six of theNorthern Provinces have been covered in a blanket of dense smog. Theconcentration of particles in Beijing of PM 2.5 currently stands at505 mg/m3(Chinese Academy of Science, 2012). These are minuteparticles that can penetrate into the lungs and even go into thebloodstream. The safe level that is recommended by the WHO is 25, andevidently China is way above this safe level. The deteriorating airquality is already imposing a heavy economic and health toll onChina. The number of tourists has significantly reduced over theyears, and cases of respiratory diseases have dramatically increased.

Peoplevisiting Olympic Park in 2014 amid a thick haze in Beijing, Source:Kyung Kim/Reuter

Fromthe beginning of millennia, many Beijing dwellers have been exposedto tiny and dangerous particles that penetrate the lung and enter theblood stream, increasing the cases of heart diseases, asthma, andother respiratory ailments. China is ranked as one of the bottomcountries in air quality, the other worst performers are Bangladeshand Nepal. This paper seeks to discuss the causes of haze in China,the effect of air pollution and establish the possible solution toalleviate the situation.

Hazein China

Historyshows that no country in the globe has emerged as an industrial powerwithout making a mark on environmental that takes many years andcolossal sums of money to alleviate. But just as the pace and scaleof China`s emergence as an economic power house has no patentparallel in history, so is its pollution dilemma, which has smashedall standards. Environmental ruin is now so severe, with such starklocal and global ramifications. The current level of pollution exertsnot only a huge long- term burden on the Chinese people but also onan enormous political challenge to the Communist party. It is notalso clear whether cities such as Beijing can rein in its owneconomic juggernaut.

Thepublic health is wobbling. Industrial pollution has made cancer theleading killer in China. Beijing is often bracketed by toxic gasesthat sometimes reduce visibility to a few a meters. Only about onepercent of China`s 560 million city residents inhale air within thesafe zones by the EU (Zhang et al. 2014). During the Beijing,Olympics China had to look for a magical formula to remove the smoghovering in the air. Environmental problems that are consideredcatastrophic in some developed nations have become the commonplace inBeijing. In some days and large cities with many industries, peoplerarely see the sun, and children and wildlife are sickened and killedby lead poisoning and other forms of industrial effluent.

Itappears that as if Beijing is choking on its own industrial andeconomic success. The economy, save for the current benign hitches,has been on a historic run, posting a succession of double –digitgrowth rates. Unfortunately, this economic growth in Beijing hasbecome a zero sum game, where to make more progress, some cost havehad to be exerted to the largest constellation of people in theplanet. The rapid economic growth has been accompanied by astaggering expansion of large heavy industries and unprecedentedurbanization that requires colossal inputs of power. Coal is abundantin China and hence it has remained the only reasonable source ofpower. Unfortunately, coal is also the dirtiest energy source. Thegreatest achievement for Beijing has also turned up to be the biggestburden, and many firms have resisted new approach meant to adopt newsources of energy.

Causesof Haze in Beijing


Itis a widely known fact that the main cause of haze and air pollutionin China is the widespread use of coal for industrial and domesticpurposes. In China, coal is considered as the main source ofdangerous gases and acid rain in different parts of the country, andespecially in Beijing (Wang &ampLiu, 2014). The haze and grey sky inBeijing and other cities is due to coal combustion, automobileexhaust, crop stubble burning and fireworks. From mid 20th century to1980, the Chinese government had formulated a program where free coalwas supplied to offices and homes, especially during the winterperiod, to everyone living North of Huai River and Qin Mountain(Almond et al. 2009).

Atthat time, it was not feasible for the Chinese government to providefree coal to all Chinese, and the Huai River and Qin Mountain wasused to demarcate areas that were severely affected by winter. It wasalso widely recognized that the parts that are closer to the HuaiRiver feel colder in winter (Almond et al. 2009). China had installeda central heating system that has been replaced by small privatesubsidized systems, but the supply is still only in the Northernregion.

Theheating systems in Beijing use coal and are technically inefficient.Heat is produced from burning coal in boilers, which are inefficientcompared to oil, electricity and gas system used in developednations. Under normal circumstance, there are about central heatingsystems in a city that provides hot water to households (Almond etal. 2009). The incomplete combustion of coal in the boilers resultsto the emission of at least three types of pollutant, carbon ivoxide, nitrogen oxides and total suspended particulates (TSP). Thelevel of air pollution varies based on the type of coal used in theboilers. There are different types of coal depending on thegeographical region where the coal is mined. It is estimated thatcoal combustion in China for domestic and industrial use isresponsible for 87% of the sulphur iv oxide and 76% of nitrogenoxides emissions (Almond et al. 2009).

Industrialuse of coal is also very high in China. Due to its availability andlow cost, there is an army of coal powered firms, more than 2400including cement, iron and steel factories (Zhang et al. 2014). Datarecently released by the United States Energy InformationAdministration indicates that China industrial use of coal stands at78%, which accounts for 47% of the global coal use (Zhang et al.2014). Use of coal for industrial use in China is four times of theUnited States` and more than 60 times that of the United Kingdom. Ingeneral, China use of coal is almost equal to the entire globecombined (Tong, 2012). Even though Beijing has made frantic effortsto revitalize and improve power generation from renewable sources, itdependence on coal is expected to increase in the coming days. Thegreatest problem is that industrial furnaces used to combust coal areinefficient and use pollution controls regarded inadequate indeveloped countries.


Researchconducted by the Chinese Academy of Science established that thebiggest source of smaller particular matter (PM2.5) problems thatcause Beijing smog (Chinese Academy of Science, 2012). Secondaryinorganic aerosols, nitrates and sulphates account for about 26% ofBeijing`s smaller particular matter. Coal burning accounts for about25% of the PM 2.5 materials in Beijing while industrial activitiesare responsible for about 18% (Chinese Academy of Science, 2012). The rest of the air pollution emanates from heavy industries in theneighbouring regions and combustion of trash. The 5.5 millionautomobiles in Beijing were found to account for about 4% of the hazein the city (Wang, 2014). The study by Chinese Academy of Sciencealso revealed that PM25 pollution was more severe on Beijing than inother cities in China (Chinese Academy of Science, 2012).


Expertshave indicated that emissions from automobiles are the greatestsource of air pollution in Beijing (Zhan et al. 2014). There aremore than five million automobiles registered in Beijing, and thenumber keeps on growing. Even though the number of automobile inBeijing is only half of those in large cities such as Tokyo,comparatively Beijing cars run for more kilometres per day (Zhan etal. 2014). For example, on average cars in Tokyo run for 19km everyday, while those in Beijing run for 45km per day. To make the matterworse more than 70% of the automobile in Beijing are concentrated inthe downtown areas (Zhao et al. 2013).

Theexpanding car ownership, high traffic and low-grade petrol have madeautomobiles a major source of air pollution in Beijing. It isestimated that only about one percent of the Chinese populationliving in urban areas breathes air considered safe by the EU (Zhan etal. 2014). Even though studies have showed that emissions fromautomobiles contribute only about 4% of the hazardous PM2.5pollutants in Beijing, pollution from cars account for more than22.5% of the smaller particular materials in Beijing (Zhao et al.2013).

Effectsof Haze in Beijing

Beijingis a swiftly growing city, but the growth has also come at a veryexpensive cost – air quality. This part describes the risks that faceBeijing dwellers due to poor air quality. First, it is important tounderstand precisely what constitutes air that can be harmful to thehuman health. The weight and quantity of solids in the air aremeasured by the air quality index measuring machine. Particles thatcan filtrate into the breathing systems and blood are those smallerthan 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5). In places with high population densitysuch as Beijing, most of the fine particulates originate fromindustrial activities and emissions from automobiles (diesel andgasoline) and combustion of coal for heat and power. When humanbeings inhale the larger particles than those measured by the airquality index machine, normally particles larger than 10 micrometers,they get filtered out by the mucus and cilia in the breathing system.(Most of them do not pas the nose, and those that do, are filteredout by the cilia and mucus in the bronchi and lungs). However, thoseminute particles smaller than 10 micrometers can go past the mucusand cilia settle in the bronchi and alveoli. These are the one thatcan cause serious harm to the body because they constantly get intothe blood stream as human beings naturally exchange oxygen and carboniv oxide.

Researchershave established a correlation between the health problems and highlevels of minute particulates in the atmosphere. One research studyconducted for a period of more than 16 years has established that anaverage increase of 10 on the air quality index was connected with an8% increases in the vulnerability of developing lung cancer (Zhao etal. 2013). In a densely populated city such as Beijing theconsequences can even be more disastrous. The WHO has estimated thatthe PM2.5 materials are responsible for more than 5% of the deathsthat occur from lung cancer in the globe. This translates to about800,000 people in a calendar year (Zhan et al. 2014).

ThePM2.5 pollutants have also been linked to other sorts of healthproblems, both short term and long term. There is overriding evidencethat suggests that fine particulates can trigger a heart attack inindividuals predisposed to heart diseases (Zhao et al. 2013). Fineparticulates can also aggravate asthma, cause difficulty inbreathing, coughing and significantly reduce the ability of the lungsto take in oxygen in individuals with obstructive pulmonary disease. Even though only preliminary research has been conducted regardingthe nanoparticles, studies point that nanoparticles can penetrate thehuman cell membrane causing damage to the circulatory system andlungs. Nanoparticles are those minute particulates with a sizesmaller than 100 nanometers.

Airpollution has been the main reason many of Beijing dwellers don notventure without breathing masks. These masks have the ability tofilter some of the dangerous fine particulates, significantlyreducing the amount of particles that get into the blood stream andrisk of respiratory diseases.

Pedestrianwearing breathing masks near the Tiananmen Square in Beijing

Scientistshave equated the level of air pollution in Beijing to a nuclearwinter. It has been predicted that if many nuclear bombs weredetonated at once, huge amount of particles would be released to theatmosphere to the extent that the sun would be blocked out enough tochange the weather in the globe and destroy the food supply. Thisseems to have appeared sooner than thought as such events havestarted to be witnessed in some parts in Beijing and six Northernprovinces.

Diseasedvegetable caused by pollution. Source: China Agricultural University,2014

Airpollution in Beijing is unquestionably a sustainable subject worthinspecting due to its momentous effects in public health andenvironmental degradation, global warming and economic burden onChina and the outside world. Since the economic reforms of the 1980s,the industrial expansion has caused pollution with horrendous healtheffects. Two decades ago, air pollution was reported to lead to atleast 100,000 per year premature deaths in China (Kahn &amp Yardley,2007). A decade ago the number had risen to 300,000 and in by 2014the number of premature deaths had skyrocketed to over half a millionpeople (Zhang et al. 2014). Scientists have indicated that the riskof respiratory ailments and death occurrence increases with theincrease in the concentration of fine particulate suspended in air,which has been skyrocketing in Beijing. The high level of airpollution in Beijing has given rise to ‘cancer villages`, which aregeographic regions with individuals with a greater than expectednumber of cancer cases. After the economic reforms of the 1980s, thecases of lung cancer have increased by more than 465%, making itChina`s number one killer (Zhang et al. 2014).

ChinaWay to Clean Air

Thesevere haze witnessed in Beijing has prompted the Chinese governmentto initiate drastic measures and policies at the national level toalleviate the level of air pollution. Pollution has hit the tourismsector in China, grounded aircraft at certain times, and threatensthe food supply of the whole nation. Beijing air pollution is similarto other cities in different parts of China. The main sources ofpollution are Beijing is industrial facilities, automobile emissions,and biogenic emissions. Most notably, the use of coal for bothindustrial and domestic purposes has been a significant cause ofpollutants in the region.

TheChinese government can alleviate this situation by imposing stringentcontrols in the power plants and firms to reduce their levels ofemission. Companies and factories that make efforts to reduce theircarbon emissions to the atmosphere should be given incentives such astax cut to encourage others to initiate similar programs.

Timealso has come for the Chinese people to seek alternative sources ofenergy that do not endanger their lives and destroy theirenvironment. Coal is readily available in China, and this makes itcheap, but the real cost it imposes on the society far surpasses thebenefits derived. Countries like Britain, Germany and United Statesof America have continued to make significant economic progress evenafter significantly reducing the use of coal in heavy industries anddomestic purposes.

TheChinese government can use incentives to encourage investment inrenewable energy sources. Regulatory controls over the PM emissionsfrom the regional industrial activities and transportation systemsare also required to reduce pollution in Beijing. The standards ofair pollutant emissions need to be increased to match those in theWest and America. This is the only way Beijing, and China will defeatthis giant in the room, before it infuses a catastrophe on the humanrace.

Beijingcan also solve the air pollution problem by temporarily suspendingthe activities of small and large scale factories and firms that emitimmense quantities of pollutants in the atmosphere. By forcing suchfirms that use ancient and ineffective boilers to halt operations,stakeholders will take initiatives to source for efficient sources ofenergy that do not have significant negative impacts on theenvironment and human health. Authorities in charge of theenvironment in Beijing city should also put a ceiling on the numberof automobiles sold in a calendar year. In areas where it ispossible, private vehicles should be banned on the highways. Thismove would be meant to reduce the number of automobiles in the roadsand the level of emission emanating from cars.

Itis also paramount that authorities in Beijing take measures to reducethe number of heating system in the city to reduce the level ofpollution due to coal burning. Homes and small-scale industries andcompanies should be encouraged to use clean energy and efficientsystems. At the moment, it is evident that zero- coal burning forheavy industries is not possible, but the government should create aclear path for firms to reduce coal consumption and substitute softcoal with hard coal, which produces less emission upon burning.

Finally,Beijing can redouble its afforestation program, to ensure millions oftrees are planted to increase forest cover to a significant level.Plants may not filter all emission, but they reduce the level ofcarbon in the atmosphere. More and more hectares should be covered byplants of different species. In the long run, the level of carbonwill be reduced to friendly levels, which will make Beijing afriendly place for flora and fauna.


Hazehas become a constant problem in Beijing, since the advent of China’sindustrialization program in the 1980s. Massive economic progress hasbeen over the years, and many Chinese have been lifted out ofpoverty.Nonetheless, economic growth and development has come athuge cost-environmental pollution. For example, since the start ofthe millennia, majority of Beijing residents have been exposed totiny and dangerous particles that penetrate the lung and enter theblood stream, increasing the cases of heart diseases, asthma, andother respiratory ailments. Beijing industrial base is driven by coalthat emits toxic elements into the environment upon combustion. Airquality in Beijing has reduced over the years, and the situation hasbeen made worse by the increasing number of automobiles on roads.Poor quality of air has dealt a heavy cost on the urban dwellers,especially those living in Beijing. Some fine particulates in theemissions have been a major source of respiratory diseases. Cancerhas been on the increase, and more and more Beijing dwellers aredying prematurely due to respiratory diseases. It is notable that,the leading sources of pollution in Beijing is the biogenicemissions, industrial facilities and automobile emissions. Mostnotably, the use of coal for both industrial and domestic purposeshas been a significant cause of pollutants in the region. It is clearthat, the heating systems in Beijing use coal and are technicallyinefficient. Heat is produced from burning coal in boilers, which areinefficient compared to oil, electricity and gas system used indeveloped nations.

Evenso, all is not doom and gloom, Beijing can redress the situation byformulating measures to improve air quality. For instance, the citycan solve the air pollution problem by temporarily suspending theactivities of small and large scale factories and organizationsemitting immense quantities of pollutants in the atmosphere. It isalso important to encourage reduction in the use of coal for poweringfactories, reducing the number of automobiles on the roads. Othernotable measures include providing incentives to companies thatensure to clean energy and planting trees will go a long way inreducing the level of air pollution and improving air quality.Through reduction of emission of these gases into the air, the cityas well as the country will be able to meet its clean air target,which will also help the county to meet the millennium developmentgoals (MDGs).


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