Type to search

China Cities Miss Air Quality Goals as Economy ‘Prioritised’

Researchers say half of the cities named in a clean air plan didn’t meet their hazardous particles cuts targets

Pollution is seen on the skyline of Beijing. Photo: Reuters
Pollution is seen on the skyline of Beijing. Photo: Reuters


A host of Chinese cities have fallen short of air quality improvement targets, with researchers putting the blame on Beijing’s push to turn its economy around.

China typically releases a winter air quality plan every autumn, because coal heating and atmospheric conditions lead to dirtier air during the winter months.

But the plan was not enforced in 2022, according to the non-profit Finnish-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), and was only reintroduced part-way through the 2023-2024 winter season.

In Q4 2023, half of the cities targeted by the December air quality action plan missed their targets to cut concentrations of hazardous particles, known as PM2.5, while in Q1 2024 41% of the cities overshot the limits.

In the 2022-2023 winter season, PM2.5 levels jumped 4.7% year-on-year and only fell back 1.6% in the 2023-2024 winter, the report said.


Also on AF: China Eyes Smart EV Revolution With Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’


The December 2023 plan by China’s State Council, or cabinet, focused on reducing coal consumption in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta and northern China’s Shanxi and Shaanxi.

Decreases in cement and coal production lowered emissions in Q1 2024, CREA said, but increases in coal-fired power, non-ferrous metals and petrochemicals offset part of that benefit. 

Industrial emissions make up around 62% of particulate emissions, the report said, according to 2022 data.

Overall, the report found that weather changes contributed more to pollution improvements than emissions changes. Pollution levels are affected by atmospheric conditions including rainfall, air temperature and pressure, and wind.

Even if met, China’s goals are below air quality targets recommended by the World Health Organization, but CREA has previously said they would still be enough to prevent as many as 180,000 pollution-related deaths by 2025.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara


Read more:

Soaring Air Pollution Major Threat to S Asia Life Expectancy

China Vows to Curb Coal Use to Tackle Poor Air Quality

China Says it Will Make Half the World’s Cleaner Ships by 2025

Cities Lead COP28 Climate Change Push as Nations Fail to Deliver



Sean O'Meara

Sean O'Meara is an Editor at Asia Financial. He has been a newspaper man for more than 30 years, working at local, regional and national titles in the UK as a writer, sub-editor, page designer and print editor. A football, cricket and rugby fan, he has a particular interest in sports finance.


AF China Bond