Based on the study conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the early deaths and lost food production caused by fine particles and smog-inducing ozone also cost the Chinese economy 267 billion yuan ($38 billion) annually.
Researchers arrived at the amount after calculating the social costs of air pollution, South China Morning Post reports.
“This is a fairly large and significant figure considering that it amounts to about 0.7 % of national GDP,” said Geography and Resources Management department assistant professor Steve Yim Hung-lam, the lead investigator of the study.
Published in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, the study involved the analysis of 2010 contributions to ground-level ozone (O3) and fine respirable particulate (PM2.5) pollution from six sectors of the economy – industrial, commercial and residential, agriculture, power generation, ground transport and “others,” such as aviation and fires.
The research team analyzed information from air quality and meteorological modeling, emissions inventories and 150 types of pollutants and chemical reaction mechanisms.
Findings revealed that the microscopic airborne particles, known as PM2.5, and the ground-level ozone released by vehicles, power plants and other industrial activities, cause an average 1.1 million premature deaths in the country and about 1,000 in Hong Kong per year.
Exposure to ozone has also resulted in the loss of around 20 million tons of rice, wheat, maize, and soybean annually.
The report further summed up the economic costs from the public health damage and crop losses to 267 billion yuan which is about 0.66 % of China’s annual gross domestic product.
Since the report highlighted the significant contributions by both the residential and commercial sectors to the pollutants, Yim emphasized the need for national emissions policies to address multiple problems instead of focusing on just one.
“Therein lies a problem: if I’m tackling one thing well, I might not be making any effective impact on another,” he was quoted as saying. “This paper’s objective is to highlight the importance of ensuring ‘co-benefits’ in emissions-control policies.”
While the Chinese government has committed to a roadmap that aimed to combat the toxic air throughout the country since 2014, it still has a long way to go in addressing its pollution problem.
It has recently tightened targets for ozone-forming pollutants and fine particles for cities as part of its three-year action plan for “winning the war for blue skies” for 2018 to 2020.
According to NGO Greenpeace East Asia, concentrations of PM 2.5 were 54% lower in the Chinese capital of Beijing during the fourth quarter of 2017 than during the same period of 2016.