China could lift life expectancy by nearly three years if it meets WHO smog standards: study
Updated 11:45, 17-Jan-2019
China could raise average life expectancy by 2.9 years if it improves air quality to levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to a new study from a U.S. research group.
China has vowed to determine the precise impact of air and water pollution on health as part of its efforts to raise average life expectancy to 79 years by 2030 from 76.3 years in 2015.
According to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), big air quality improvements made in the last five years have already been enough to push up average lifespans.
"China is winning its war against pollution.  (The country) is due to see dramatic improvements in the overall health of its people, including longer lifespans, if these improvements are sustained," EPIC director Michael Greenstone said at an event in Beijing on Thursday.
According to the EPIC's findings, air quality improvements made in the smog-prone northern city of Tianjin over the last five years are already expected to have raised the average lifespan of its 13 million residents by 1.2 years.
China cut average concentrations of hazardous particles known as PM2.5 to an average of 39 micrograms per cubic meter last year, down 9.3 percent from 2017 after a campaign to curb coal use and improve industry and vehicle standards.
A total of 656 polluting enterprises were forced to relocate last year, with firms and individuals fined a combined 230 million yuan (33.8 million U.S. dollars) for violations, up 22.5 percent from last year.
Beijing's Jingshan Park. /VCG Photo

Beijing's Jingshan Park. /VCG Photo

In a study cited by China's Xinhua News Agency on Friday, a group of top Chinese health experts identified air and water pollution as one of the major health risks in China for the next 20 years, alongside obesity, depression and Alzheimer's disease.

Challenges ahead of China

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared "war" on pollution in 2014 amid fears that the damage done to the country's environment as a result of more than 30 years of untrammeled economic growth would lead to social unrest.
However, with much of the low-hanging fruit already taken and the economy facing a slowdown, China has admitted that the campaign is under pressure.
A shortage of technology support is a huge obstacle for companies from heavy industry that intend to reduce emissions. 
"Like some steel manufacturers or power plants, their current technologies are too outdated to allow the companies to meet the emission standards," said Sun Yele, researcher of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Some experts believe that the biggest challenge for China's smog-stricken areas is the emissions from household coal stoves. 
Jiang Kejun, a researcher at China's National Development and Reform Commission, explained that Beijing has clear-cut coal-to-electricity and coal-to-gas plans, but in the provinces of Hebei, Shandong and Henan, many rural families are facing a higher cost if they switch to cleaner fuels. So helping rural residents improve their lives while providing clean energy alternatives will require more policy support.
[Also with input from Reuters]