May 22, 2024

China Faces Worsening Air Pollution in 2023, Breaking Decade-Long Trend

China has experienced a concerning increase in air pollution levels in 2023, marking the first time in a decade that the country has seen a rise in average PM2.5 levels, according to a recent study by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). PM2.5 particles, which pose serious health risks when inhaled, are known to be linked to premature deaths and various respiratory and cardiovascular issues. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has highlighted the adverse effects of PM2.5 particles on human health.

Researchers have attributed the deterioration in air quality to a combination of factors. The overall increase in human-caused emissions has contributed to higher pollution levels, compounded by unfavorable weather conditions. Adding to these concerns, a separate study conducted by an international consortium of climate scientists predicts a four percent increase in China’s fossil fuel CO2 emissions in 2023. This rise is largely due to the country’s efforts to rebound from the COVID-19 lockdowns, with a significant increase expected in the consumption of coal, oil, and gas.

China, however, initiated a comprehensive anti-pollution campaign after securing the Winter Olympics bid in 2015, resulting in the closure of numerous coal plants and the relocation of heavy industries. Despite these efforts, air quality often fails to meet the standards set by the World Health Organization.

Lauri Myllyvirta, a researcher at CREA, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming Winter Olympics have played significant roles in sustaining the anti-pollution efforts until 2021. He added that while PM2.5 and ozone levels remain lower than those in 2019, there has been a noticeable increase in 80% of provincial capitals, including Beijing.

The CREA study further disclosed that coal and thermal power production in areas failing to meet the PM2.5 standard rose by 4.4% and 4.3% respectively in 2023 compared to the previous year. These figures point to an increased reliance on fossil fuels. The research organization derived its conclusions from Chinese government data and employed a machine-learning algorithm that distinguished between the impact of weather and human emissions.

Northern China experienced a wave of severe pollution in late October and November, prompting authorities to advise residents to limit outdoor activities. Data collected by air quality monitoring firm IQAir revealed that PM2.5 concentrations in Beijing during this period were over 20 times higher than the guidelines established by the World Health Organization.

As the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, China’s recent surge in approvals for coal-fired power plants has raised concerns about the nation’s commitment to its goals of peaking emissions between 2026 and 2030, followed by achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. The approval of these plants suggests a potential regression from these objectives.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it