A decade ago in Beijing, air purifiers sold like hot cakes and people locked themselves indoors in an attempt to escape the blanket of heavy smog outside. Breathing the toxic air was a serious health hazard. Today, the same air purifiers gather dust as Beijingers enjoy the great outdoors without the fear of falling ill and fresh air is no longer considered a luxury.

The reversal over the past 10 years has been nothing short of remarkable. Chinese authorities often demonstrate the vast difference in air quality between then and now by pointing out the decrease in density of air pollutants in the atmosphere and the steady increase in the number of days with fairly good air quality each year.

A recent study by a United States-based institute, however, highlights the effect of the improvement in air quality in a more direct manner — it means Chinese people can expect to live longer.

China’s air pollution level in 2021 was 42.3 percent lower than what it was in 2013, the year before the country launched a “war against pollution”, according to the annual Air Quality Life Index report, compiled by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in late August.

“Due to these improvements, the average Chinese citizen can expect to live 2.2 years longer, provided the reductions are sustained,” it said.

The world only experienced a “small decline” in air pollution levels between 2013 and 2021. The decline was “entirely due to China’s progress”, it stated.

It said, “Without China’s steep decline in pollution, global average pollution would have increased slightly from 2013 to 2021.”

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