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Country Spotlight

China

Pollution Ranking

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xx Particulate Pollution (µg/m3)

xx Gain in life expectancy if WHO Guideline is met

*The WHO Standard is µg/m³.

xx Gain in life expectancy if National Standard is met

*There is no National Standard.

For almost two decades, China remained one of the top five most polluted countries in the world. But after launching a successful “war against pollution” in 2014, China was able to reduce its particulate pollution by 28 percent—dropping the country from its top five ranking in recent years. If the reductions are sustained, China’s people can expect to live 1.4 years longer. The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, one of China’s most polluted areas in 2013, saw a 33 percent reduction in particulate pollution, translating into a gain of 2.6 years of life expectancy for its about 109 million residents, if sustained.

KEY TAKE-AWAYS

  • Despite significant progress over a short time, China’s particulate pollution is still almost four times the WHO guideline, making it the tenth most polluted country in the world.
  • Ninety-nine percent of China’s 1.4 billion people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the WHO guideline. Fifty-five percent live in areas where particulate pollution exceeds the national standard.
  • If pollution were reduced to meet the WHO guideline, Chinese people could gain an additional 2.7 years onto their lives
  • In parts of Hebei and Henan provinces, home to much of the country’s coal and steel industries, residents could see their life
    expectancies rise by up to an additional 4.5 years if pollution levels met the WHO guideline.
  • Beijing saw a 30 percent reduction in particulate pollution from 2013-2018, gaining 2 years in life expectancy if the
    reduction is sustained. Residents could further gain 1.4 years if the city’s pollution met China’s national standard, or 3.8 years if it met the WHO guideline.

Explore The Data

Data for Potential Change in Life Expectancy

10 States with Largest Potential Life Expectancy Gain
10 Most Polluted States

Policy Impacts

To achieve further improvements, the Chinese government announced in July 2018 a new plan to reduce pollution from 2018 to 2020. Regions that did not meet the national air quality standard of 35 µg/m3 would need to reduce particulate pollution by 18 percent relative to 2015 levels. Though the national targets are less ambitious than those set for 2013-2017, some prefectures set more stringent targets for themselves in their local five-year plans. For example, Beijing committed itself to a 30 percent reduction from 2015 levels by 2020.

China: National Air Quality Action Plan (2013)

China’s War on Pollution Has Cut Smog by 39%

After five years fighting a “War on Pollution,” China has seen remarkable progress in reducing pollution and winning its war. If these improvements are sustained, people in China could see their life expectancy increase by nearly 2.1 years.

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The Index

The AQLI converts air pollution concentrations into their impact on life expectancy. From this, the public and policymakers alike can determine the benefits of air pollution policies in perhaps the most important measure that exists: longer lives.

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Methodology

The AQLI estimates the relationship between air pollution and life expectancy, allowing users to view the gain in life expectancy they could experience if their community met World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, national standards or some other standard.

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