Program Updates

Tsinghua Proposed China’s Long-Term Air Improvement Pathways Consist With Carbon Neutrality

With support from Energy Foundation China, a Tsinghua University research group led by HE Kebin and ZHANG Qiang published an article online in April 2021 at the National Science Review titled “Pathways of China’s PM2.5 Air Quality 2015–2060 in the Context of Carbon Neutrality,” which for the first time identifies the pathways of continuous air quality improvement in China and its key regions from 2015 to 2060 that are consist with China’s carbon peaking and neutrality goals. The research finds that China’s carbon neutrality goals will play a critical role in reducing air pollution exposure to the level of the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and protecting public health.

Clean air policies in China have substantially reduced particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution in recent years. But the current PM2.5 levels are still high, with growing difficulty in curbing end-of-pipe emissions. With President Xi’s announcement in September 2020 that China will try to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, coordinated action for air pollution control and greenhouse gas mitigation has gained momentum. Since 2018, EF China has supported the Tsinghua research group to study China’s air quality improvement pathways in the medium and long term, coordinated control strategies for greenhouse gases and environmental pollutants, and other topics, with a view to offering scientific evidence for how to design China’s overall objectives for the coordinated control and identify implementation pathways in the long run.

This paper analyzes carbon emissions and PM2.5 levels in China in 2030 and 2060 under six different scenarios and quantifies the synergistic air and carbon pollutant reductions. It finds that, China can achieve both its 2030 carbon peaking goal and PM2.5 annual standard of 35 μg/m3 by 2030, through tightened source control, higher share of renewable energy, early peaking of the production volumes of steel, cement, and other high energy-consuming products, accelerated phaseout of scattered coal use, and pollution control in non-electricity industries, diesel engines, and major VOC sources. Meanwhile the average annual exposure level of PM2.5 among the Chinese population would reduce from 55 μg/m3 in 2015 to 28 μg/m3.

However, the benefits of such end-of-pipe control reductions are mostly exhausted by 2030, the paper finds, and reducing PM2.5 exposure of the majority of the Chinese population to below 10 μg/m3 by 2060 will likely require more ambitious climate mitigation efforts such as China’s carbon neutrality goals. Under the carbon neutrality scenario, China will have transitioned to low carbon energy by 2060, when the share of renewable energy generation will exceed 70 percent, end-use coal consumption in industry sectors will account for less than 15 percent, vehicles powered by electricity and other renewable energy will top 60 percent, and all energy used by residents will be clean, with a total carbon emissions level of 680 million tonnes, or more than 90 percent lower from the current level, the researchers say. By then, the average annual exposure level of PM2.5 among the Chinese population will drop to 8 μg/m3, with 78 percent people enjoying lower exposure than the levels of the WHO guidelines.

Based on their analysis, the researchers make many suggestions, including that coal-consuming industries, electricity generation, residential and public buildings, and transportation sectors should be the focus of China’s co-control actions; China should advance the coordinated control of PM2.5 and O3 pollution in the context of its carbon goals, with accelerated transition to a zero carbon energy mix; innovative tools can be used for a comprehensive air pollution control system; and after 2030, China should align its air quality standards with the WHO guidelines to protect human health, and set 10 μg/m3 as a new long-term goal. Researchers hope the paper’s findings can also help inspire coordinated actions for climate change and air pollution in other developing countries such as India, which are also suffering from air pollution and scattered utilization of fossil fuel.

Link of the paper:
Cheng J#, Tong D#, Zhang Q*, Liu Y, Lei Y, Yan G, Yan L, Yu S, Cui Y. R, Clarke L, Geng G. N, Zheng B, Zhang X. Y, Davis S. J, and He K. B.: Pathways of China’s PM2.5 air quality 2015-2060 in the context of carbon neutrality,


Program Updates
Search Program Updates

Share to Wechat Moments