Between 1998 and 2013, China’s gross domestic product grew by an astronomical 720 percent. This economic expansion was accompanied by a 77 percent increase in Mainland energy consumption and a corresponding boom in air-quality issues.
The country has made progress in addressing these environmental problems. For example, the United Nations Environment Program reports that concentrations of sulfur oxides have diminished by 78 percent in the Beijing monitoring area since 1998, while nitrogen oxides have declined by about 24 percent. Over the same period, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air has shrunk by 58 percent. Concentrations of particulate matter have also fallen by 42 percent.
These improvements stem from a number of trends, including fuel switching and efficiency gains in energy production and consumption. New technologies have also helped. Adoption of advanced exhaust systems, for example, has reduced tailpipe emissions of particulate matter by about 70 percent.
Unfortunately, as anyone who has visited any of China’s 336 largest cities can attest, the government and private sector have made progress in their clean-up effort, a lot of hard work remains.
Last year, for example, average concentrations of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and ozone met international standards in all but a handful of the Mainland’s largest cities. However, 262 cities in China failed to meet the World Health Organization’s minimum standards for concentrations of particulate matter.
China’s most recent Five-Year Plan sets aggressive targets for improving air quality. These goals include:
In many respects, the most recent Five-Year Plan’s environmental directives continue and expand upon those outlined in its predecessor, which ran from 2011 to 2016.
However, the 13th Five-Year Plan involves some overhauls to the way China does business. These changes will bring pain to some companies, but the government’s focus on improving air and water quality will create massive investment opportunities for international firms that offer the right technologies and have the local knowledge and partnerships to implement these solutions in China.