New research has suggested that climate change is contributing to China’s ongoing smog crisis.
Several previous studies have shown that rising temperatures, part of wider global warming patterns, have resulted in a lack of wind throughout northern China. Wind is necessary to help blow away smog, and changing weather patterns have left many of China’s largest cities without this key source of ventilation.
The new research could alter the political landscape in China in terms of efforts to roll back pollution.
Climate researcher Liao Hong, of Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, said “Everyone used to think that controlling smog hinged on reducing regional pollution, Now it’s clear that it will require a global effort.”
China’s efforts so far have revolved around gradual reduction of pollution from factories, power plants, and automobiles. The new research points to a need for global action on climate change, and a need to close high-pollution plants and factories more rapidly. The findings may also motivate China to take a new leadership role on global climate change efforts, as the US Trump administration seems set to back out of such a role.
Following increasing public anger over smog and pollution, China has made new efforts in recent years to combat the problem. The pollution has been linked to a range or respiratory problems and other illness. The government has increased inspection and enforcement on factories, closed coal power plants, and made efforts to limit driving.
Earlier this month, Premier Li Keqiang promised to “make our skies blue again,” with even stronger efforts to combat the problem. However, the new findings show that regional efforts to cut pollution may be limited by the ongoing effects of climate change more broadly.
The study, led by Liao Hong, used pollution data from Beijing, from 2009 to 2016, suggested the weather patterns responsible for severe smog could become more common in the coming decades. It did not account for emissions reductions agreed to by countries who signed on to the 2015 Paris agreement.
China’s recent efforts have led to some progress, including a ten percent decline in particulate air pollution in Beijing over the past three years, according to government data.
Environmental advocates agreed the new research shows the need for global action, but also emphasized the need for stronger local efforts.
According to Dong Liansai, an advocate with Greenpeace in Beijing, “It won’t change the overall conclusion that air pollutant emission is the direct and interior cause for this air pollution problem. Much more action is required.”