Breathing China’s smog can cost more than two years of your life, according to the International Energy Agency. The organization points its finger at the energy sector for shortening life expectancy in the country by 25 months, with about a million deaths linked to outdoor pollution each year.
An alarming 97% of the Chinese population is reportedly exposed to toxic concentrations of PM2.5 on a regular basis. PM refers to particulate matter, which is primarily composed of ammonia, black carbon, mineral dust, nitrates, sodium chloride, sulfate and water. It is basically a mixture of solid and liquid particles floating up in the air.
But toxic air is not always found outdoors. The IEA also points its fingers at household pollution, which kills 1.2 million Chinese people each year. This results from the burning of organic food matter and use of substandard fossil fuels, according to the South China Morning Post.
The IEA estimates that Chinese life expectancy could increase with 15 months by 2040 if air pollution from responsible sources will be limited. “The government has promised several trillion to clean up the air – policy makers need to make sure taxpayers’ money is spent effectively,” said Zou Ji, one of China’s officials for climate change strategy.
Every year, around 6.5 million deaths are associated with poor air quality, the IEA noted. Air pollution is said to be the fourth-largest hazard to human health, trailing behind dietary practices, high blood pressure and smoking.
Smoking, in itself, also contributes to the collective air pollution. Since 1964, about 2,500,000 non-smokers have died from medical complications caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted. Pollution causes severe asthma attacks and ear and/or respiratory infections among children while adults are at risk for heart disease, lung cancer and stroke.
IEA executive director Fatih Birol emphasizes the importance of clean air:
“Clean air is a basic human right that most of the world’s population lacks. No country – rich or poor – can claim that the task of tackling air pollution is complete. But governments are far from powerless to act and need to act now.”
But China is on the way to addressing its problem. According to Shanghaiist, the country has been increasing its efforts since 2015 when Beijing announced its red alert on air pollution. By February 2016, the Chinese capital announced a new standard that raises the red alert threshold, tightening pollution control.