China's Ministry of Environment Protection released official figures Monday showing just eight out of 74 major cities in the country passed air quality standards in 2014. These 74 cities were chosen as pilot participants last year after new indicators were included to test for air quality.
In 2013, just three out of 74 cities met the standards set by the Chinese government for air quality. This number has grown by five in 2014, with Haikou, Shenzhen, Zhoushan, Zhuhai, Fuzhou, Huizhou, Kunming and Lhasa making the list. These cities are located on the eastern portion of the country, except for Kunming and Lhasa.
On the other hand, the worst-performing cities are found close to Beijing, China's capital, with eight out of 13 cities within the area making it to the top 10 list of cities with the most levels of smog. Hebei province's Baoding industrial center received the distinction though of having the worst level of air quality in the country.
China has been dealing with rising levels of air pollution for decades but has now started acknowledging the threat that poor air quality brings by releasing regular updates on PM2.5 levels across various cities. Though a tiny particle, PM2.5 has the ability to reduce visibility when in large-enough quantities. The particle also settles in the lung when breathed in, leading to health risks for Chinese residents.
China pledged in November that it will be moving to cut its carbon emissions by the year 2030. In 2014, it also recorded the first drop in coal production in more than a decade as the government intensified its efforts at switching to greener sources of energy. Around 80 percent of the country's electricity supply is fueled by coal, as well as two-thirds of China's total energy use.
So far, efforts have led to a reduction of heavy smog in the country, going from an average of 32 days in 2013 to 21 in 2014. Smog levels are measured across all of the 74 cities included in the air quality assessment.
According to statistics, 2014 yielded 156 days meeting air quality standards, a number 85 days less than the usual average. However, PM2.5 levels were still over 1.6 times stronger than air quality standards.
Aside from preferring cleaner energy sources, Beijing will also be limiting the number of new vehicles on the road. This measure hopefully will contribute to cutting the use of coal by up to 75 percent by 2022.