In Beijing, people have tried to vacuum particles from the air, build air-filtering bicycles, and import small bottles of fresh oxygen.

But for all the gambits people are coming up with, it turns out that government action is likely the best way to improve air quality.

An analysis of air quality in China by environmental watchdog Greenpeace has found that air pollution declined from 2016 to 2017 in Beijing and 74 other cities across the country.

Beijing’s air pollution declined by 54% from year to year, according to Greenpeace, likely improving quality of life for metropolis citizens who have regularly contended with smog-filled streets and warnings to stay indoors.

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And the reason why the air is getting better isn’t because more people are aiming vacuums at the sky.

It’s because the government is taking action to make factories more efficient, invest in renewable energy, and reduce the overall dependence on fossil fuels, according to Greenpeace.

The improvement resulted in 160,000 fewer premature deaths across the country in 2017, Greenpeace estimates.

Read More: Air Pollution Is Killing 6.5 Million People Each Year

The country still has a long way to go to make sure the air no longer poses a risk to citizens and to end its reliance on fossil fuels, but it’s making progress.

“China’s national air pollution action plan has brought massive reductions in pollution levels and associated health risks, but policies favouring coal and heavy industry are holding back progress,” said Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Huang Wei.

While cosmopolitan cities like Beijing are seeing cleaner air, other parts of the country are getting worse, Greenpeace reports, potentially because China has made an effort to get its heat from natural gas rather than coal, which is shipped from other parts of the country, and because overall use of fossil fuels has increased. 

Along the Russian border, air in the province of Heilongjiang became more clogged with pollutants, the New York Times notes.

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And the country remains the biggest consumer of coal, natural gas, and oil, which means that emissions may just be more concentrated in more remote parts of the country where many factories and energy plants are located.

However, 2017 featured a number of environmentally forceful moves by the government.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for universal access to clean air and water. You can take action on this issue here.

In late October, the government shut down thousands of factories, interrupting the country’s breakneck industrial sector, to bring them in line with environmental standards.

The government went on to fine 18,000 companies for pollution violations.

Read More: China, the World’s Biggest Auto Market, Wants to Ban Gasoline Powered Cars

Greenpeace has been a dogged critic of China’s air quality and its use of fossil fuels, so this report is another sign that the government could be turning a corner.

The government, for its part, understands that more has to be done.

“Local governments need to strengthen pollution controls to further cut emissions and make sure they reach their goals on air quality improvement,” the Ministry of Environmental Protection was quoted as saying in China Daily.

Prime Minister Xi Jinping has vowed to prioritize environmental concerns and has assumed a leadership role in global negotiations over climate action.

Now that blue skies are once again visible in the capital city, it’s clear that these actions are beginning to pay off.


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