Data from Greenpeace points to a dramatic improvement in the air quality of the Chinese capital towards the end of last year.
A report from Greenpeace East Asia indicates that concentrations of PM2.5 – a category of minute air particles that are considered to pose the greatest threat to human health, ” fell by 33% year-on-year in the fourth quarter across the greater Beijing conurbation.
PM2.5 levels fell by 54% in the Chinese capital alone, while the country as a whole posted a 4.5% decline.
According to the report the reason for the abrupt improvement in Beijing’s air quality is the launch of policies last year that forced both households and businesses to switch to natural gas from coal.
In December the National Development and Reform Commission unveiled a winter heating plan that outlined a 150 million metric ton reduction in coal consumption across northern China by 2021.
The plan involves the replacement of coal via alternatives such as biomass, heat pumps and geothermal power in addition to natural gas.
While the adoption of cleaner natural gas may have had a salutary impact on Beijing’s air quality, it’s also come at the price of fuel shortages that have left many homes unheated and prompted the closure of factories.
Natural gas demand surged 19% in October according to official government data, with analysts forecasting a 15% rise this year should existing policies remain in place.
The Chinese government is nonetheless expected to intensify the new anti-coal policies, however, with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. pointing out that President Xi Jinping has committed to bringing an “iron hand” to bear upon pollution.
“The switch from coal to gas has dramatically reduced pollution,” wrote Bernstein analysts in a report released on Thursday.
“While there have been problems in implementation, the plan is delivering results.”