The topic of air contamination and, to be more precise, particulate matter pollution occupies a crucial place in modern national and global programs addressing environmental protection issues. Moreover, due to dynamic anthropogenic activities and the expansion of industrial complexes, harmful emissions into the atmosphere pose a severe threat not only to nature but also to human health. Nevertheless, despite the awareness of the existing problem and the need to combine efforts to achieve the maximum possible effect of reducing the share of harmful particles in the atmosphere, courses and policies differ. In different socioeconomic regions, the practices of addressing air pollution issues depend on the levels of economic development, the degree of pollution, and some other criteria that determine the strength of interventions. The legislative initiatives promoted by the European Union (EU) and China are distinctive, and pollution prevention programs in these regions will be compared to determine the main differences and find out the optimal approaches. The hypothesis is as follows: the preventive programs promoted in the EU are more effective than those in China, although recently, in the eastern region, there has been a positive trend towards improvement.
The importance of this topic lies in the need to assess the existing legislative and practical initiatives in different regions to identify positive trends and draw conclusions regarding the possibility of introducing specific approaches globally. Environmental governance is a field of activity that depends not only on an individual control board but also on a number of other interested parties who contribute to protecting the environment. The findings of the current research show that an emphasis on air pollution regulation at the legislative level and the use of modern equipment are effective methods of dealing with harmful emissions and their consequences. Thus, the methods utilized in the EU can be adapted to other socioeconomic regions, and the necessary interventions can help improve the ecological situation globally due to the relevant prevention programs.
To conduct objective and credible research on the topic presented, a literature review will be carried out as a method of collecting relevant and scholarly data from academic sources. As the works to utilize, peer-reviewed articles will be selected, which consider particulate matter pollution and the existing practices of addressing this problem in the EU and China. Each of the selected sources contains relevant qualitative and quantitative data and suggests paying attention to the considered environmental problem from the standpoint of the influence of the current legislative practices and technological achievements. Thus, focusing on such a narrow topic can help highlight the key differences between the two socioeconomic regions and assess the relevance of the applied methods of air pollution control.
The articles selected for the literature review raise the same issue – the role of legislative practices and policies in combating particulate matter pollution. However, they fall into two categories: the assessments of European and Chinese regulatory approaches. Researchers provide modern methods to reduce the negative impact of air pollution on the environment and human health. Individual principles of interventions are proposed based on the control measures utilized by the responsible authorities, the application of technological impacts is evaluated. The outcomes and consequences of specific solutions are assessed from the perspective of addressing the existing problem and success or failure to improve the air pollution situation in the selected socioeconomic regions.
To begin with, the EU’s methods and practices on air pollution control will be reviewed. Čavoški (2017) examines the issue from the standpoint of the complexity of adapting the modern vehicle industry to the safety standards promoted by environmental boards due to the constantly increasing activity of enterprises. As the author states, existing regulations in Europe pose a challenge for large factory owners due to stringent quality standards (Čavoški, 2017). As the data to substantiate her position, Čavoški (2017) provides quantitative calculations and analyzes the European standards for the number of harmful emissions in different periods. Since the 1970s, regulations for controlling the proportion of SO2, NOx, CO2, and other harmful compounds have been steadily tightened, which results in adopting various programs dictating conditions for vehicle manufacturers. As a methodology for analysis, Čavoški (2017) applies Merton’s framework designed to interpret unintended consequences. There is a conclusion that the participation of manufacturers in the development of regulatory programs and timely risk assessment is significant and effective mechanisms for addressing the problem of air pollution without significant losses for stakeholders.
The value of the existing prevention programs is an essential aspect of the analysis. The research by Czyżewski et al. (2019) focuses on evaluating the current EU strategies from the perspective of their long-term effectiveness and benefits in relation to particulate matter pollution. Today, the EU countries allocate many funds to combat this environmental problem, and determining the effectiveness of these policies in terms of their relevance and effectiveness is a significant research objective (Czyżewski et al., 2019). As a methodology, Czyżewski et al. (2019) resort to estimating the share of the agricultural area used as a criterion that has a potentially negative effect on mitigating the problem due to the industrial equipment usage. The findings prove that the allocation of significant funds to combat particulate matter pollution is justified, and a high proportion of agricultural areas increases the risks to the environment.
Assessing air pollution from a human health perspective is a topic that concerns most European citizens. Gozzi et al. (2017) remark that in the second half of the 20th century, people began to pay more attention to this problem and focused their efforts on preventing it. The authors assess health and mortality rates from different European cities and note a positive correlation between high levels of particulate matter in the air and health issues (Gozzi et al., 2017). Statistical comparisons are the main tool that Gozzi et al. (2017) apply, and the total concentration of harmful substances in the atmosphere is analyzed based on the existing assessment standards. The key finding is that despite significant air pollution in the regions of central and eastern Europe, the share of harmful emissions from the transport and industrial sectors has decreased. At the same time, contamination rates are still high and require legislative addressing.
The topic of air pollution in the EU, including the impact on health, the role of technological measures, and climate change are the objectives of the study by Turnock et al. (2016). The authors pay attention to the existing legislation in this socioeconomic region and regulatory practices that aim to minimize the negative effects of harmful emissions into the atmosphere (Turnock et al., 2016). The key data utilized in the analysis are the percentage of particulate matter, health indicators based on comparisons over different periods, and regulatory dynamics. The results obtained prove that the active intervention of the responsible authorities in the problem of pollution has a positive effect on reducing the concentration of solid particles and contributes to increasing the health indicators of the EU citizens.
To answer the stated research problem, this literature review also evaluates Chinese preventive programs and methods for dealing with particulate matter pollution. In the study by Geng et al. (2019), the researchers draw attention to the issues of chemical waste disposal and the impact of dynamic industrial activities on the state of the air in the country. According to the authors, until 2013, no significant regulatory actions were taken, which made the pollution problem acute and severe (Geng et al., 2019). For their research purpose, Geng et al. (2019) apply air quality analyses and assess its composition while paying attention to the concentration of PM2.5, NO3, and other harmful substances. The results of the legislative practice are reviewed concerning this problem over several years. The findings are crucial: since 2013, the air in many regions of China has cleared, and the visual map data confirm the value of national mitigation programs to addressing pollution outcomes.
Wang et al. (2017) provide similar reasoning on air pollution in China. According to them, in 2013, only 4.1% of cities in the country showed indicators that fit into the generally accepted standard for an acceptable degree of contamination (Wang et al., 2017, p. 426). As a result, the level of pollution reached a critical level and was dangerous due to the high concentration of harmful substances. By assessing the effectiveness of the implementation of regulatory practices at the legislative level, the researchers compare the performance indicators to eliminate these consequences over the past decade (Wang et al., 2017). The conclusion is given that control is a mandatory aspect of work to improve the air condition in China, but the standard has not yet been reached, and the existing indicators of harmful PM2.5 emissions need to be reduced by approximately half.
The negative impact on human health as a consequence of a high air pollution level in China is also addressed in individual studies. Specifically, Yang and Zhang (2018) correlate Chinese national health expenditure with atmospheric emissions. The researchers note that a 1% annual increase in pollution levels corresponds to an approximately 2.9% increase in healthcare costs (Yang & Zhang, 2018, p. 443). For their analysis, the authors use the data on the Chinese economy and airborne pollutants obtained due to the assessment of the current indicators (Yang & Zhang, 2018). The outcomes of the study are significant: the implementation of the state plan to combat air pollution correlates with the reduction of healthcare costs positively. As a result, addressing the pollution problem not only reduces the harmful effects on public health but also helps preserve a significant share of the budget, which, thereby, confirms the importance of regulatory control.
By comparing the findings from the reviewed academic sources, one can find both general conclusions and unique theses. With regard to the legislation in the EU, Turnock et al. (2016) note positive developments in the regulation of the air pollution problem and associate this success with improved health indicators. However, as Gozzi et al. (2017) argue, despite the work in this direction, much needs to be done since the current results are not optimal. Concerning the issue of particulate matter pollution in China, the articles reviewed suggest a similar idea. Geng et al. (2019) and Yang and Zhang (2018) state that, compared to the data prior to 2013, the country’s current air contamination rates have improved significantly, which influences the environment and citizens’ health positively. Nevertheless, according to Wang et al. (2017), despite progress in this industry, the current air cleanliness parameters are at least doubled below modern standards, which explains an urgent need to promote appropriate preventive practices. The arguments in favor of strengthening the legislative impact are the most convincing since, based on the findings of all authors, pollution indicators exceed permissible standards in both considered socioeconomic regions.
Examining the existing data on air pollution in the two considered socioeconomic regions, the European Union and China, allows assessing the current state of the environment. In doing so, one should take into account the earlier preconditions that caused the contamination and lead to the fact that the problem became crucial. According to the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (2017), in the EU, since the 1990s, the active use of chemicals in the agrarian sector has helped to increase the area under crops by 70% (p. 20). However, this trend has become the cause of severe issues. People faced the threat of air pollution more acutely, and soon, the regional government realized the extent of the problem and the threat it entailed. According to the same report, in 2013, a corresponding initiative to restrict the use of hazardous chemicals in the agricultural industry was launched (United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme, 2017). This solution reduced the proportion of particulate matter in the air, although, by this time, the problem had already led to severe issues, particularly health concerns.
In China, until recently, the situation was even more dangerous and alarming. As one of the world’s industrial leaders, this socioeconomic region had extremely high levels of air pollution, although even after the introduction of appropriate legislative initiatives, the problem remains acute. According to the United Nations Development Programme (2016), in the industrial cities of the country, “industrial dust can contribute up to 20% of particulate matter” (p. 1). While taking into account that this region is densely populated, the issue of transport emissions was also acute. All these aspects have led to the Chinese government’s decision to take a course towards environmental restoration as one of the priority areas of work. Based on the report provided by the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (2017), the transition to environmentally-friendly regimes in social and industrial areas became part of the national development strategy. High mortality rates and significant healthcare costs were the outcomes of pollution. However, before the legislation was passed in 2015, the country had experienced severe air pollution problems, which made China one of the dirtiest regions in terms of air contamination.
Introducing targeted legislative initiatives is associated with the costs that are essential to implement effective mechanisms for addressing current environmental problems, in particular, air pollution. Based on the estimates provided by Czyżewski et al. (2019), in case the EU officials promote projects designed to improve air quality in the region by minimizing emissions, this will be fraught with significant losses. As the authors state, “adopting a more ambitious environmental policy by 2050 would incur costs of around 65 billion euros” (Czyżewski et al., 2019, p. 4984). At the same time, if European leaders concentrate their efforts on addressing the current problems, the health outcomes of the population will improve. The cost of medical assistance caused by poor air quality is high. Moreover, according to the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (2017), every ninth death in the world is caused by air contamination. Nevertheless, Czyżewski et al. (2019) argue that “the benefits of better health are estimated at around 62 billion, meaning that investments would be almost offset” (p. 4984). Therefore, governments’ joint activities to address the current air pollution problem in the EU are essential.
For China, ongoing initiatives to combat air pollution are critical due to the high level of contamination. Czyżewski et al. (2019) cite the data according to which, in the case of inaction and ignoring pollution reduction policies, the state GDP can decrease by 2% (p. 4984). Moreover, addressing the current problem has a potentially positive effect on public health. Since the cost of providing medical assistance correlates with the state budget director, the activities to reduce air pollution are urgent. Based on the data mentioned by the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (2017), health benefits from measures to reduce air pollution in China are estimated at $125 billion (p. 41). At the moment, the state is on the way to improving the environmental situation. As Wang et al. (2017) note, in the future, the country will have to reduce the share of harmful emissions by about half to achieve generally accepted standards. Therefore, today, improvements are observed in China, although a later decision to address the problem under consideration in comparison with the EU has led to more severe consequences for the country’s ecology.
By analyzing the data found on legislative initiatives from the EU and China as target regions where controlling air pollution reduction is an urgent need, one can highlight valuable information. The findings show that the official European programs set a model for the Chinese government to pursue environmental improvements later. In addition, the data confirm that the role of effective measures to eliminate the consequences of air contamination is significant not only in the environmental context but also from other perspectives. Healthcare, economics, and transportation are the sectors that can be improved. The example of China proves that the absence of the necessary legislative initiatives is fraught with a significant deterioration of the environmental situation. The country has a long way to go to achieve the permissible concentration of particulate matter in the air. Moreover, based on the findings, one can assume that the earlier initiatives of the EU made it possible to address the problem more successfully due to the dynamic development of contemporary industrial sectors. Therefore, the initial hypothesis is confirmed that European air pollution reduction practices are more effective than those adopted in China recently.
As additional data, the involvement of the data on the state of air in neighboring regions with those considered could be useful for researching the topic under consideration. Not all European countries are members of the EU, and the assessment of air pollution with particulate matter in these regions might provide a more accurate analysis of the current situation. This, in turn, could help evaluate the existing pollution reduction initiatives to adopt more effective addressing practices in the EU. Similarly, despite the industrial development of China, some Asian countries also demonstrate high rates of economic growth, which is largely due to technological activities. To assert the accuracy of the proposed hypothesis and make the study more credible, comparing pollution indicators between neighboring states could provide more reliable data. In addition, the information on the existing legislative initiatives in these countries might be useful as a basis for analyzing the best solutions taken at the national level. Therefore, further research on the potential for particulate matter pollution reduction may include a broader list of socioeconomic regions for obtaining extensive data on the environmental issue in question.
The air pollution addressing programs promoted by the European Union can be used in other socioeconomic regions, notably China. Earlier legislative interventions implemented in the EU have justified their relevance, while recent changes in the Chinese legislation have become extremely important due to the poor quality of the air in the country. High industrial development is the key reason for aggravating the state of the atmosphere in the designated regions. The analysis of the findings in the research conducted proves that addressing the issue under consideration may have a positive impact not only on the environment but also on human health and the economic sector. Based on the comparison of the two regions, one can state that the earlier the necessary control initiatives are introduced, the lower are the risks to people and the environment. It will take China a long time to reverse the effects of the current air pollution. Nevertheless, promoting special programs at the national level is an obligatory practice that cannot be neglected, particularly in the 21st century, when the level of technogenic activity is exceptionally high.
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Czyżewski, B., Matuszczak, A., Kryszak, Ł., & Czyżewski, A. (2019). The efficiency of the EU environmental policy is struggling with fine particulate matter (PM2.5): How agriculture makes a difference? Sustainability, 11(18), 4984. Web.
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