China started a war on air pollution and they are making progress.
The team found that between 2014 and 2017, China’s annual power plant emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter dropped by 65%, 60% and 72% each year respectively from 2.21, 3.11 and 0.52 million tonnes in 2014 to 0.77, 1.26 and 0.14 million tonnes in 2017, under the ultra-low emissions (ULE) standards policy.
The study shows that previous methods of estimating Chinese power emissions overestimated numbers by at least 18%, and in some cases up to 92%. This is because previous research was carried out using ex-ante studies – estimations made ahead of the introduction of ULE standards – which looked at how the standards might affect emissions based on assumptions of changes in emission concentrations.
Coal plants and coal plant operators were given enough financial incentives to comply with the new standards. Old and inefficient coal plants were shut down. New, cleaner designs were built and existing plants were renovated. The smaller units that didn’t contribute much capacity but did contribute a lot of emissions were shut down.
The research is the first to use data on emission concentrations collected by China’s Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems network (CEMS) which covers 96-98% of Chinese thermal power capacity.
In 2014, China introduced an ultra-low emissions (ULE) standards policy for renovating coal-fired power-generating units to limit SO2, NOx and particulate matter (PM) emissions to 35, 50 and 10 mg m−3, respectively. The ULE standard policy had ambitious levels and implementation timeline. Researchers estimate emission reductions associated with the ULE policy by constructing a nationwide, unit-level, hourly-frequency emissions dataset using data from a continuous emissions monitoring systems network covering 96–98% of units.
Saving Lives With Improved Air Quality but Gains are Offset by More Vulnerable Aging Population
Air-quality-improving targets are substantial, and could reduce the number of PM2.5-related premature deaths in China by approximately 129 278 by 2020 and 217 988 by 2030, compared with 2010. However, since China’s population is increasing and ageing, the number of PM2.5-related premature deaths was estimated to increase by 84 102 by 2020 and by 244 191 by 2030, indicating that the health benefits induced by air quality improvements could be offset by the effect of the population increasing in size and aging. The analysis is from a 2019 article in the Lancet.
To reduce the future disease burden in China, targets that are stricter than the interim target and stringent policies to improve air quality and protect public health are needed, especially for at-risk population groups, such as older individuals (aged over 55 years) and patients with cardiovascular diseases, particularly in regions with a high disease burden.
Estimated number of premature deaths associated with PM2.5 in 2010, 2020, and 2030 according to the
(A) 100% improvement scenarios,
(B) 50% improvement scenarios, and
(C) unchanged scenarios.