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China emissions on the right track as air pollution drops


The first detailed analysis of air pollution trends in China reveals a 20 per cent drop in concentrations of particulate pollution over the last three years.

A study by the University of Leeds has examined measurements from more than 1,600 locations in China. It found that more than 50 per cent of the locations showed a significant decrease in concentrations of Sulphur Dioxide and fine particulates that make up a large portion of air pollution.

The team used datasets from 2015 to 2017 consisting of hourly assessments of concentrations of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Ozone (O3), and fine particles measuring less than 2.5 µm (PM2.5).

The hourly data was used to calculate monthly averages and determine overall concentration levels as well as which regions of China had the highest and lowest concentrations. The data was then used to assess whether pollutant concentrations had changed over the 2015 to 2017 period.

The team found that concentrations of PM2.5 fell by 7.2 per cent per year over this period and concentrations of SO2 fell by 10.3 per cent per year. In contrast, O3 concentrations increased by five per cent per year.

Study co-author Professor Dominick Spracklen, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, said: “Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions has led to serious air quality issues across China. One of the most dangerous components of air pollution is fine particulate matter that measures less than the width of a human hair. These particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs causing serious health complications. Exposure to these particles is estimated to cause more than one million deaths across China each year.

“In response the Chinese government introduced policies to reduce emissions and set ambitious targets to limit the amount of particulates in the atmosphere. This is the first detailed assessment as to whether these policies are having an impact.”

Ben Silver, study lead author and postgraduate researcher at Leeds, said “Our work shows rapid and extensive changes in air pollution right across China. In particular it is encouraging to see that levels of fine particulate matter have fallen rapidly in the last few years.

“While more research is needed to fully assess what is driving the trends we’ve uncovered here, particularly what is causing the widespread increase in ozone concentrations, we can see that China’s emissions control policies seem to be on the right track.”

Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

Further information

This work was funded by the AIA Group, which is the largest independent publicly listed pan-Asian life insurance group, headquartered in Hong Kong. AIA is committed to playing a meaningful role in combating rising health issues in Asia, including through support for improved air quality in the region.

The paper: Substantial changes in air pollution across China during 2015 to 2017 has been accepted into Environmental Research Letters.