China's most polluted province isn't Beijing

Motorcyclists in Zhengzhou, Henan province. Image: Getty.

In a typically joyous year-beginning celebration, Greenpeace has released a round-up of China’s pollution over the course of 2015. There's good news and bad news. 

Good news first: things appear to be improving. Average PM2.5 concentrations (that is, the concentration of particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) dropped by 10 per cent nationwide compared to 2014. The concentrations in Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou – all big-hitter polluting cities fell considerably. 

Now for the bad news. That average PM2.5 concentration? It's still five times the level recommended by the World Health Organisation. This implies that, while efforts across China to lower pollution, in particular by cutting down on coal consumption, are having some effect, they aren't going far enough. 

Someone else's problem 

The report also hints at another issue. It's headed by a list of provinces, ranked worst to best in terms of pollution levels. Beijing, surprisingly, is high up the list at number two.

But the top spot is occupied by a province containing none of the cities usually seen on China's pollution blacklist: Henan province. 

In April last year, Greenpeace warned tha,t while pollution seemed to be improving in eastern cities like Beijing, the roots of the problem had been shifted rather than solved. Industrial regions around Beijing, and lesser-known provinces like Henan, have attracted heavy industry just as cities like Beijing make it less welcome, which may explain Henan's slightly unepected crowning as "polluting province of the year". 

In a statement at the time, Zhang Kai, a campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia, said: 

"Armed with this information, the government must now ensure that pollution is not simply relocated to other regions, and that the same strict measures enacted in cities like Beijing are actually enforced across the country." 

 This demonstrates the limitations of city- or province-level targets when it comes to climate change: it can become pretty easy to make pollution-heavy industries someone else's problem. Luckily, China has instigated national policies too, like a moratorium on opening new coal mines. Here's to a better 2016. 


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