Ending China’s “Airpocalypse”

New report outlines U.S. best practices for improving air quality in China


Research Triangle Park, NC — “Airpocalypse”—that’s how many referred to the damaging levels of smog that affected many China residents this winter. The high-levels of pollution caused schools to close, transportation to be halted, and gas masks to become a wardrobe staple.

A new report, “Air Quality Management Planning Framework,” by researchers from RTI International in collaboration with the Jiangsu Environmental Protection Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sonoma Technology, Inc., and the Regulatory Assistance Project, aims to help the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China lift communities out of the smog by outlining best practices and technologies used in the United States for improving air quality. This work was funded by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

“China has undergone an economic surge over the past few decades, and as a result air quality has suffered,” said Rebecca Nicholson, contributing author and vice president of RTI’s Environmental Engineering & Economics Division. “The United States has had its own challenges managing air quality and economic growth, and the report shares lessons learned through that experience.”

Authors of the report analyzed conditions in three Jiangsu Province cities—Nanjing, Changzhou, and Suzhou—that face challenging air quality issues. Jiangsu has experienced rapid urbanization and increased energy demand, leading to air pollution. In 2014, the province had the highest industrial smoke and dust emissions in China, and was ranked second in coal consumption. The geographical makeup of the region also presents a unique challenge—with mountains on three sides, it is difficult for pollution to disperse.

Looking at these challenges, the report lists a range of recommendations for improving air quality, to include:

  • Coordinate interagency planning and data sharing
  • Develop emissions standards that reflect best available control technologies
  • Update and implement emergency programs when pollution levels are too high
  • Develop a strong, but fair, enforcement program

“Technologies, data, and expertise surrounding air quality have never been better,” Nicholson said. “Leveraging this knowledge, China can maintain its economic growth while reducing air pollution and improving overall public health.”

In addition to providing recommendations for air quality improvement, the report provides updates on China’s national-level air quality planning efforts, as well as efforts in the Jiangsu Province.

Read the full report here. A Chinese version is also available.