Better air in China can boost lifespan: Study

Air and water pollution is one of the major health risks in China for the next 20 years, say Chinese experts in another study.
Air and water pollution is one of the major health risks in China for the next 20 years, say Chinese experts in another study.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US researchers say country can add 2.9 years to life expectancy by meeting WHO standards

BEIJING/SHANGHAI • China could raise average life expectancy by 2.9 years if it improves air quality to levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), according a new study from a US 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... (It) 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 Epic's findings, air-quality improvements made in the smog-prone northern city of Tianjin over the last five years are 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 m last year, down 9.3 per cent from 2017 after a campaign to curb coal use and improve industry and vehicle standards.

But average emission levels remain significantly higher than China's own 35mcg standard and WHO's recommended 10mcg limit. In northern industrial regions, average concentrations are much higher.


In a study cited by state-owned news agency Xinhua yesterday, 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.

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 untrammelled economic growth would lead to social unrest.

But with much of the low-hanging fruit already taken and the economy facing a slowdown, China has admitted the campaign is under pressure.

"It would be very difficult for China to meet the WHO standards, even with strong efforts to reduce industrial emissions and fossil fuel consumption," said research professor Jiang Kejun of the Energy Research Institute, a government think-tank. "Emissions from non-industrial sectors - agriculture, for instance - also play a big part in air pollution and are hard to put under control."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2019, with the headline 'Better air in China can boost lifespan: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe