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Pollution Ranking

13 out of 252 countries

30.2 Particulate Pollution (µg/m3)

2.47 Gain in life expectancy if WHO Guideline is met

WHO Guideline: µg/m3

35 National Standard

China does not have a National Standard for PM2.5 (µg/m3)

China’s fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) has been decreasing since the country announced a “war against pollution” in 2014. This decline has continued through 2021, with pollution levels down by 42 percent compared to 2013.[1] Due to these improvements, the average Chinese citizen can expect to live 2.2 years longer, provided the reductions are sustained. Nevertheless, work remains. While China’s overall particulate pollution average is in compliance with its national standard of 35 µg/m³, pollution levels still significantly exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline of 5 µg/m³. As a result, particulate pollution shortens an average Chinese resident’s life expectancy by 2.5 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guideline was met.


  • Despite tremendous progress over the past few years, China is still the 13th most polluted country in the world. As a comparison, particulate pollution in Beijing is still 40 percent higher than the most polluted county in the United States (Plumas county in California).
  • Practically all, 99.9 percent, of China’s 1.4 billion people still live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the WHO guideline. If the current pollution levels persist, China stands to lose 3.6 billion total life years.
  • Even though China’s overall particulate pollution average is in compliance with the national standard, 30.9 percent of the population still lives in areas that exceed the national standard of 35 µg/m3. If these areas were to comply with the national standard, it would result in a gain of 216.7 million total life years. An individual living in these areas would gain 6 months of life expectancy on average if the pollution was brought down to the levels prescribed by the national standard.
  • Measured in terms of life expectancy, particulate pollution is among the five greatest threats to human health in China, taking 2.5 years off the life of the average Chinese resident. In comparison, tobacco use reduces life expectancy by 3 years.
  • In China’s most polluted prefecture—Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province—the average person is on track to lose 4.3 years of life expectancy on average relative to the WHO guideline.

Read more about China in the Policy Impacts section of our website.

China: National Air Quality Action Plan (2013)

China’s Announcement of War Against Pollution in 2014 Has since Cut Particulate Pollution by 39.8%

In 2021, after eight years of fighting a “War against Pollution,” China has seen remarkable progress in reducing pollution and it is winning its war. If these improvements are sustained, and the pollution is further brought down to the levels prescribed by WHO, people in China could see their average life expectancy increase by 2 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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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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