China's Annual Air Pollution Death Toll: Half A Million People

The admission is the first from a Chinese official that puts a human cost on the country's huge air pollution problem, largely stemming from coal-burning power plants. But Shanghai had good news this week too. Rain brought blue skies and clean air.

2 minute read

January 11, 2014, 5:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


In introducing this [downloadableMarketplace radio report, Kai Ryssdal states this stunning revelation from China's former health minister: "Half a million people die each year in China because of air pollution." New coal plant emissions targets have been set, "but how will they meet them?", he asks.

"After a month of some of the worst smog on record, it rained in Shanghai this week, making today one of the cleanest-air days this winter," states Rob SchmitzMarketplace’s China correspondent based in Shanghai.

(China’s government) aims to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants around Beijing and Shanghai by up to 25 percent within the next three years. Job promotions for local officials will reportedly be dependent on whether these goals are met.

Malcom Moore of The Daily Telegraph writes in The Province on Jan. 8 that the former health minister, Chen Zhu, "is the most senior government official to put a human cost on the smog that regularly clouds Chinese skies. Until recently, any mention of deaths relating to pollution was strictly censored."

Schmitz ends his report with the disheartening news that "the government announced this week that China produced a hundred million tons of coal this past year – six times more than the previous year, ensuring that China continues to burn more coal than the rest of the world combined." 

Earlier, we noted that "China will account for nearly 60% of new global (coal) demand over the next five years" which in turn helps to explain why "growing coal consumption (has) caused 60 percent of the increase in global carbon dioxide emissions since 2000."

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