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China Should Lead on Air Pollution

Urbanization cannot be stopped, but this does not excuse governments for failing to address air pollution. With considerable resources and capacity for nationwide policy coordination, China should be leading the way in developing a sustainable approach to urbanization that can serve as a regional and even global example.

SINGAPORE/HONG KONG – The United Nations expects 68% of the world’s population to live in urban areas by 2050. As governments scramble to manage this flood of urban migration, they must address not only basic needs such as housing and employment but also issues impacting liveability and public health – including air pollution.

Nowhere is this challenge more urgent than in Asia. In recent months, cities like Bangkok, Seoul, Kathmandu, and Dhaka have faced major pollution events. But even at their usual levels, 99% of cities in south Asia and 89% in east Asia exceed World Health Organization exposure guidelines. In 2018, Asia was home to all of the world’s 30 most polluted cities: 22 in India, five in China, two in Pakistan, and one in Bangladesh.

According to the WHO, polluted air is responsible for seven million premature deaths each year, roughly one-third of which occur in the Asia-Pacific. In China alone, air pollution causes over one million premature deaths annually, according to a 2018 study conducted at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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