China’s government has cracked down on burning coal for home heating and the closure of small, dirty coal-fired plants close to major cities. They has also been widespread deployment of scrubbers and other antipollution technology that has long been standard in the West. According to some estimates, close to 90 percent of the coal plants in China now have basic pollution controls. “On the conventional pollutants in flue gas, by 2020 the level of compliance in China will be equal to the U.S. or Europe,” says Latta.
Pollution levels in many of China’s major cities fell from 2013 to 2014, according to Greenpeace, and dropped by nearly another one-third in the first quarter of 2015. Levels of PM 2.5, the deadly particulates that contribute to emphysema and other respiratory diseases, fell by 31 percent in Hebei Province, which includes the Beijing metropolitan area, according to government figures collected by the environmental group. The skies over Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen—the coastal megacities hardest hit by coal smog—are not exactly blue, but they are getting less gray.
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, burning about as much every year as the rest of the world combined. According to a study first published in the medical journal The Lancet, 1.2 million people die prematurely every year from air pollution in China. That’s about the population of Dallas dying every year, mostly because of coal. Air pollution can make big cities like Beijing and Shanghai nearly unlivable, and the giant coal mines of the interior have ravaged millions of square miles.
Here is a site that reports measured PM2.5 Air quality is still bad (mostly unhealthy levels) but they are back down to 2012 levels instead of the worse 2013 and 2014 levels.