China’s air pollution has been a problem for decades now, but with the issue now drawing significant attention worldwide, the Chinese government has stepped up efforts to address it, even going so far as to sacrifice business for the sake of cleaner skies.
According to a report by NPR, authorities from the Chinese environmental bureau have spent the past several months temporarily closing down factories’ access to electricity and gas in order to figure out which ones followed environmental laws and which ones didn’t.
“So, basically, you’re seeing these inspectors go into factories for surprise inspections,” Gary Huang, founder of a firm that serves as a middleman between the Chinese supply chain and foreign companies, told NPR. “They’re instituting daily fines, and sometimes — in the real severe cases — criminal enforcement. People are getting put in jail.”
In the past year, officials in more than 80,000 factories have been punished in some way by China’s Ministry of Environment for violating environmental laws.
In a press conference on Monday, China’s Environmental Protection Minister Li Ganjie said that the government is serious about addressing China’s air pollution. Concretely, this means lowering the concentration of particulate matter called PM2.5 hovering over China to 35 micrograms by 2035.
To meet that goal, the nation has been focused on ending its dependence on coal through the creation of solar and wind farms, future bans on non-electric cars, and the establishment of “green finance” zones.
So far, these efforts appear to be paying off. Average PM.25 levels were 2.3 percent lower during the first eight months of 2017 compared to 2016’s figures, and at present, PM.25 in Beijing is down to 60 micrograms from last year’s 70 micrograms.
Of course, the path hasn’t been entirely smooth, and Li said China still has a long way to go before the effects of these new policies and initiatives are felt by the nation’s citizens.
“We understand that current air quality fails to meet people’s expectations,” he told Reuters. “People should be patient about improvements in air quality improvement as it will take time to solve such a big problem.”