If you are looking for a Chinese city with clean air, your best bets would be Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Zhoushan, Zhanjiang, Yunfu, Beihai, Haikou, Sanya or Lhasa, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Those are the only nine out of 161 monitored cities that met China’s new air quality standards in the first half of this year, the ministry announced on Wednesday. The stricter standards were rolled out by the government in 2012 as part of a continuing battle with air pollution in the country, the state news agency Xinhuareported.
Chinese leaders have vowed a “war” on pollution as one of its most visible forms, smog, regularly envelops the country’s major cities, particularly in the north. Health officials warn that exposure to fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, can lead to serious health problems. Last year, a doctor treating the country’s youngest patient ever diagnosed with lung cancer, an 8-year-old girl, attributed the disease to air pollution.
One city that did not meet the air quality benchmark was the country’s capital, Beijing. The city’s 20 million residents — migrant workers and government leaders alike — regularly experience unhealthy levels of PM 2.5 and other pollutants.
In January 2013, Beijing residents endured particularly choking, yellow air with a concentration of fine particulate matter 40 times the recommended maximum exposure limit set by the World Health Organization.
On Monday, the municipal government announced its latest measure to curb pollution. In a statement on its official website, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said the capital would ban the use of coal in six districts and neighboring regions by the end of 2020. Other high-polluting fuels, such as petroleum coke, and some biomass fuel will also be banned. Electricity and natural gas will be promoted for heating and cooking instead.
Last September, the Chinese government announced a nationwide plan to curb air pollution that included a goal of reducing overall coal consumption as a percentage of energy use. Some critics of the initiative voiced disappointment that the plan did not set specific limits on coal use by region.
China accounts for roughly half of the world’s annual coal consumption, the burning of which creates pollutants like fine particulates and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.
But a ban on coal in Beijing alone will not put much of a dent in China’s overall coal use, because Beijing is “a very minor coal-consuming region,” Rohan Kendall, the China consulting manager at Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy, said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
“Total coal consumption in China is more than four billion tons annually, of which Beijing consumed only 15 million tons last year,” Mr. Kendall said, adding that Beijing receives most of its energy, and pollution, from neighboring provinces.
He said he doubted that many other cities would emulate Beijing’s plan. “Coal is just too important for China,” he said.