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Project May 5, 2017

China Pushes Back Against Air Pollution

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Workers assemble a solar panel inside of a factory in Haining, Zhejiang province, China.
Workers assemble a solar panel at Jinko Solar’s factory in Haining, Zhejiang province. China is in the midst of the world’s biggest-ever investment in renewable power, seeking to reduce its reliance on coal and ease air pollution that is estimated to kill more than a million people in the country every year. Image by Beth Gardiner. China, 2017.

China's "airpocalypses" make global headlines, and the attention is more than justified: Dirty air blights lives and kills a million Chinese people every year.

But there's more to the story. China is also the place where a dynamic that holds promise for the future of the planet is unfolding most powerfully. Prodded by public anger over air quality, its leaders have begun taking steps that could make a real difference both for their people's health and the fight against climate change.

The Chinese government has declared a "war on pollution," and is not only closing the worst-polluting factories and power plants, but has also unleashed the biggest investment in renewable energy the world has ever seen. The billions it's spending on solar and wind power have put China ahead of schedule on meeting its Paris Agreement promise to begin reducing carbon emissions by 2030. And, slowly but surely, air quality has begun to improve.

It's still the world's biggest consumer of coal, a hazard to both human health and the climate, and there's a long way to go before its air is even somewhat clean. But as journalist Beth Gardiner reports in this project, China has finally begun to reckon with the need to balance economic growth with environmental protection and its people's well-being.

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