“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. Nationwide, 2017 saw the slowest air quality improvement on record,” said Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Huang Wei.
Average PM2.5 concentrations fell by 33% from 2013 to 2017 in 74 cities for which data is available. Improvements were most significant in 2014 and 2015, due to a decline in coal consumption and new emission standards for coal-fired power plants. Improvement slowed in 2017, as an economic stimulus for heavy industry spurred a rebound in coal, cement and steel.
Due to the heavy industry rebound, PM2.5 in Beijing, Tianjin and 26 surrounding cities increased 6% during the first three quarters of 2017, with rustbelt provinces Shanxi and Hebei jumping 23% and 13%. In the last quarter of 2017, PM2.5 levels in the 28 cities dropped 33.1%, a decline that resulted in roughly equal parts from favourable weather conditions and a six-month air pollution action plan that went into effect in October.
Outside the scope of the regional action plan, air pollution in some provinces intensified in 2017. Annual PM2.5 averages in Heilongjiang, Anhui, Jiangxi and Guangdong rose by 10.4%, 7.4%, 4% and 5.3% respectively, as output in polluting industries such as metals and coal-fired power surged.
NO2 levels, an indicator of fossil-fuel burning, fell an average of 10% in Beijing, Tianjin and 26 surrounding cities but increased by approximately 6% in the rest of the country in the fourth quarter. This reflects the shift of industrial output outside the 28 cities after the winter action plan went into effect.
Levels of ozone pollution, which causes lung damage, symptoms in asthma patients, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, are on the rise.  Summertime average ozone levels jumped 25% year-on-year in the 28 cities and 10% nationwide.
The increase resulted from record industry output, unusually hot weather and a reduction in particle pollution levels. Average ozone exposure in China rose 17% between 2014 and 2017, an increase which caused an estimated 12,000 premature deaths per year.
In 2013, China’s the State Council implemented the Action Plan for Air Pollution Prevention and Control, which set targets for PM2.5 reduction, capped coal consumption and mandated renewable energy growth, among other measures.  The first phase of the action plan spanned 2013 to 2017.
Greenpeace calls on China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection to release its guidelines for the second phase of the air pollution action plan as soon as possible.
“The second phase of the air pollution action plan must be as ambitious as the first and should include targets for ozone reduction. China’s energy transition is already underway, but economic policies that favor coal are putting our health on the line,” said Huang.
Summary of findings available here
Notes to editors:
 Health Risks of Air Pollution in Europe HRAPIE Project : New emerging risks to health from air pollution – results from the survey of experts. / HRAPIE Project. Denmark : World Health Organistion, 2013.
Erin Newport, International Communications Officer
Greenpeace East Asia, Beijing | +86 18301149704 | [email protected]
Greenpeace International Press Desk, [email protected], phone: +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)