New air pollution control plan released

On 30 November, China published its third air pollution control plan, aiming to further cut airborne pollutants and to transition toward clean industry.

The plan emphasises reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), setting emission caps for both pollutants. The plan mentions methods including using fewer materials containing high VOCs in products such as paint and detergent, and upgarding boilers that emit high NOx.

Specific targets include: by 2025, cities at the prefecture level and above should reduce their fine particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) levels by 10% compared to 2020, and heavily polluted days should account for less than 1% of the year. (Levels may have fallen a little bit lower in 2020 than the prevailing trend due to reduced industrial output caused by the pandemic.)

Moreover, the PM2.5 levels of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region should decrease by 20%, and by 2025 the Fenwei Plain area should be 15% lower, again compared to 2020. Beijing’s PM2.5 level should be controlled below 32 micrograms per cubic metre by 2025. This is a little lower than the national standard, but remains much higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline. 

China’s first national air pollution control plan was released in 2013. It was succeeded in 2018 by another on “defending the blue sky”, which put more cities under air quality management targets.

Between 2013 and 2021, China’s air pollution levels fell 42.3%, according to this year’s Air Quality Life Index from the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.

Despite significant improvements over the last decade,  at the end of 2022 nearly a third of China’s cities fell short of the national air quality standard. This year’s situation has worsened due to economic activity rebounding, climate change, and other factors. 

“The turning point for air quality, shifting from quantitative to qualitative change, has not yet arrived. Heavy pollution is still frequent. As we all know, the three major structures have not been fundamentally improved: the industrial structure focuses on heavy and chemical industry, the energy structure relies heavily on coal, and the transportation structure prioritises roads,” said Liu Bingjiang, director of the department of atmospheric environment at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, during a press conference on the new plan on 11 December.

Given these circumstances, the newly released plan outlines nine major tasks to be achieved by 2025, such as eliminating outdated steel production capacity, promoting a transition to green industry, boosting renewable energy installation, and developing green transportation.  

“[The plan] clearly defines the foundation of collaborative governance for pollution and carbon reduction,” Dr Wan Wei, China program director of Clean Air Asia, told The Paper

Read China Dialogue’s article on China’s air pollution management challenges.