Air quality in China

Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in China

Last update at (local time)


Real-time China
Most polluted city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1The national flag of International Guyuan, Ningxia


2The national flag of International Lanzhou, Gansu


3The national flag of International Baiyin, Gansu


4The national flag of International Wuzhong, Ningxia


5The national flag of International Shizuishan, Ningxia


6The national flag of International Alxa League, Inner Mongolia


7The national flag of International Wuhai, Inner Mongolia


8The national flag of International Yinchuan, Ningxia


9The national flag of International Zhangye, Gansu


10The national flag of International Baotou, Inner Mongolia


(local time)



Real-time China
Cleanest city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1The national flag of International Zhaobaoshan, Zhejiang


2The national flag of International Guiyang, Guizhou


3The national flag of International Huizhou, Guangdong


4The national flag of International Nanjing, Jiangsu


5The national flag of International Sanya, Hainan


6The national flag of International Shanwei, Guangdong


7The national flag of International Shenzhen, Guangdong


8The national flag of International Zhongshan, Guangdong


9The national flag of International Zhoushan, Zhejiang


10The national flag of International Zhuhai, Guangdong


(local time)


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How polluted is China?

The national flag of International

2023 Air quality average

Human face indicating AQI level


2023 average US AQI





2023 average PM2.5 concentration in China: 6.5 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value

2023  China cleanest city Nyingchi, Tibet


2023  China most polluted city Hotan, Xinjiang


2023 aqi country ranking

How does China rank globally in air pollution?

19 /134

Which country had the worst air quality in 2023?

1The national flag of InternationalBangladesh169,356,251


2The national flag of InternationalPakistan231,402,117


3The national flag of InternationalIndia1,407,563,842


4The national flag of InternationalTajikistan9,750,064


5The national flag of InternationalBurkina Faso22,100,683


6The national flag of InternationalIraq43,533,592


7The national flag of InternationalUnited Arab Emirates9,365,145


8The national flag of InternationalNepal30,034,989


9The national flag of InternationalEgypt109,262,178


10The national flag of InternationalDemocratic Republic of the Congo95,894,118


19The national flag of InternationalChina1,412,360,000




What is the air quality forecast for China?

China is the world’s most populous country with a 2019 population of approximately 1.4 billion. Its total land area is 9.6 million square kilometres which make it the world’s fourth-largest country by area. The capital of China is Beijing, although this is not the largest city, Shanghai is.

In 2019 China ranked as the 11th dirtiest country in the world. The US AQI figure for this year was 110. The concentration level of the PM2.5 pollutant was 3 times above the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended levels.

Beijing residents were subjected to “Moderate” levels of pollution for just two months in 2019, August and September. For the remaining ten months they experienced air quality that was classified as “Unhealthy for Sensitive groups”, according to levels recommended by the World Health Organisation. With a PM2.5 average in 2019, of 42.1 µg/m³ the air quality is slowly improving when compared to previous years. 50.9 µg/m³ and 58.8 µg/m³ were the respective concentrations for 2018 and 2017.

In 2019, the cleanest city in China was LInzhi, situated in Tibet with a recorded US AQI figure of 27. By contrast, China’s dirtiest city was Hotan in Xinjiang province with a recorded US AQI figure of 179.

How bad is air pollution in China?

Air pollution is a major problem in China and, as such, poses a huge threat to public health. Particulates are formed in two main ways. Primary sources include the combustion of coal, fossil fuels burnt in vehicle engines and general biomass combustion. Emissions from power stations are considerably higher than those recorded in other industrialised countries. This was mainly due to the fact that factory emissions were not subjected to any type of filtration system before release. This, however, is changing as more and more factories are required to retrofit flue-gas desulphurisation technology which removes most of the harmful sulphur dioxide (SO2) from the fumes.

What are the main causes of air pollution in China?

The causes of China’s widespread air pollution can be attributed to a number of factors: the enormous economic boom which is currently taking place, a large increase in the number of motorised vehicles, population growth, increase in manufacturing outputs, and natural reasons which include the surrounding topography and seasonal weather.

For instance, the number of vehicles registered in Beijing is 3.3 million and this figure increases by 1 further 1200, each day. Emissions from vehicles contribute to almost 70 per cent of Beijing’s polluted air. The most dangerous ones being; PM2.5, sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). Modern vehicles tend to utilise modern technology and are fitted with various parts which reduce the dangerous particles which are emitted. The expanding population in China and especially in large metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai contributes to air pollution. The population in Beijing alone has risen from 11 million to 16 million in just 7 years and is continuing to increase annually.

In northern China, air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, principally coal, is causing people to die on average 5.5 years sooner than they otherwise might.

Coal is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants in China. Approximately 66 per cent of China’s power is produced by coal. It was reported that in 2014, the annual tonnage of coal used was 4 billion. This figure was more than the rest of the world, combined. In the area around Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei 1.8 billion tons of coal was used in this year.

What can be done to improve air quality in China?

Recently, China has made a lot of progress in an attempt to get its air cleaner. Between 2013 and 2017 the levels of PM2.5 were reduced by 33 per cent in at least 74 cities. The following year, it fell by a further 10 per cent. During August 2019, Beijing experienced the lowest PM2.5 reading since records began. It stood at just 23 µg/m³, (micrograms per cubic metre). If this level continues to drop, then Beijing will fall out of the top 200 most polluted cities in the world table. The Chinese government has made a concerted effort by encouraging the change from coal to natural gas as a source of power, both for homes and industry. Another major factor is that it has the most electric vehicles on its roads than any other country.

The Chinese government is investing heavily to combat pollution. Over $277 billion were pledged by the Academy for Environmental Planning in 2013. In 2012, cities began to adopt the Environmental Air Quality Standards as a way of improving the quality of air found in its cities. This has proved to be very effective because the recorded levels of PM2.5 and sulphur dioxide (SO2) dropped by 42 and 68 per cent, respectively, between 2013 and 2018.

In 2012, a spokesperson for the China Medical Association warned that air pollution would become the biggest threat to the nation’s heath unless steps were taken to redress the situation. One of the most noticeable reductions in pollutants was the reduction of sulphur dioxide (SO2). This could be attributed to the use of flue-gas desulphurisation technology which was widely encouraged to be introduced at power plants.

The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, known as Jing-Jin-Ji recorded an annual average PM2.5 concentration of 93 µg/m³, in 2014. China has a standard figure of 35 µg/m³ to which it tries to adhere to, whereas the recommended limit as suggested by the World Health Organisation is 10 µg/m³. Because of the localised topography, the smog often stays in the atmosphere for days and obviously poses a serious health threat.

In 2013, The Chinese government began to take action against this situation. Several mitigating actions were implemented in 2013 with the issuance of the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan. In order to support this initiative a US$500 million loan was approved by The World Bank for the Innovative Financing for Air Pollution Control in Jing-Jin-Ji Program in March 2016. The government also designated the commercial Hua Xia Commercial Bank as a recommended source of loans specifically aimed at financing air quality improvement schemes. The main focus was centred on the Jing-Jin-Ji triangle and the surrounding provinces of Shandong, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Henan.

With the financial help from this programme, the Wangping Power Company has installed two heat recovery units and a 21-kilometre length of thermal pipework to Huairen County. This alone has eliminated the need of 10 smaller power production units that were previously used to provide heat for the local residential neighbourhood. This will reduce the levels of emissions considerably.

Another project which received financial assistance from this programme was the Qingyuan Food Company, in Shandong province. They manufacture noodle, biscuits, cornflour and other food products. Its power and heat plant provide winter heat to residents and steam to smaller businesses nearby. After receiving the financial assistance, the company increased its generation capacity and also levels of its efficiency and is now able to supply winter heat to 300,000 homes and 160 smaller localised businesses. This improvement meant that 35 local boilers were no longer required and could be closed down.

This forward-thinking company has also retrofitted its chimneys with the latest desulphurisation and denitrification filters and has dust filters running at 95 per cent efficiency.

Which city in China had the lowest levels of air pollution?

According to figures released on the reputable website, the cleanest air in China is found in Tibet. In December 2020 the city of Linzhi recorded a US AQI figure of 50. It was also voted as China’s cleanest city in 2019 with an average annual figure of 27.

Other pollutants were recorded at relatively low levels, but there is room for improvement. PM2.5 concentrations were 15 µg/m³, and the PM 10 figure was 20 µg/m³. Ground-level ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were recorded at 73 µg/m³ and 7 µg/m³, respectively. The remaining two pollutants which are often measured were sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) at 6 µg/m³ and 600 µg/m³, respectively.

What does the future hold with regards to air quality in China?

The way forward must be with the use of renewable energy which produces no pollution. Solar power and wind energy are ideal substitutes for coal and other organic matter.

One innovative company that controls and operates the highways in and around Jinan, the capital city of Shandong province has installed photovoltaic panels over the open spaces that run alongside the highway. There are also installed near tunnel entrances and on top of their toll booths and restrooms. Any power that is generated in this manner is sold to the local power company and goes into the national grid.

In 2018 this company opened what was to be the first solar highway in the world. The roadway is just 1 kilometre in length and contains over 10,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels. These panels catch the sunlight and convert it into electricity. It could be used to melt snow and ice that form on the road during the winter months which will make driving much safer. Electric vehicles that use their network of roads will be able to recharge their vehicles, wirelessly, whilst driving across these special sections.

Chinese state-owned utility company Huanghe Hydropower Development has recently completed building the world’s largest solar farm. The panels have been installed over an area of desert in Qinghai province in the northwest of the country. Construction of the plant commenced in November 2019 and was completed in September 2020. The generated power will be sold to the national grid system. The complex is connected to an ultra-high voltage power line which will connect to the more densely populated areas in the east.

Does the exclusion of traffic from city centres help to reduce air pollution?

From 1st November 2019, any motor vehicle which was not registered by Beijing will only have 12 permits issued each year. Before these new measures were introduced, around 700,000 non-Beijing-registered cars were entering the city centre on a daily basis. This number is the same as ALL the cars registered in Hong Kong.

In 2015, 50,000 permits were issued, by the following year, the number rose sharply to 100,000 per day. In 2020 the figure stands close to 1 million per week.

The government also aims to cap the number of local vehicles too by the end of 2020. The limit is set at less than 6 million per day. The city has recently made vast improvements to its public transportation system and openly encourages its residents to make full use of them. 22 subway lines operate within the city with a total combined length of 602 kilometres. A further 400 are planned before the end of 2021.

Obtaining a local license plate is a lottery as only a certain amount are made available each month and are vastly oversubscribed. A 30 year old driver was quoted as stating that he had had his car licensed outside Beijing for 3 years. He works and lives in the suburbs and seldom drives into the city centre. He complains about the poor level of public transport available in the suburbs and often relies on the use of his friends’ cars to commute. He went on to say that he had been trying to get a local plate for the last 6 years but to no avail.

In 2018 a traffic reduction system had been in operation for almost a decade. The system is based on the last digit on the license plate. The policy requires automobiles with end numbers 1 or 6, 2 or 7, 3 or 8, 4 or 9 and 5 or 0 respectively from Monday to Friday to refrain from driving in or towards the city centre. Electric vehicles are exempt from these restrictions, as are other classifications of vehicles. Emergency service vehicles, police and military vehicles and tourist buses are also exempt.

There is also a smog alert system in place which reduces the number of vehicles in the city centre by 50 per cent when a red alert condition is expected. This total ban on vehicle entering the city remains in place until the smog begins to clear. Only then are motorists allowed to continue their journey.

China air quality data attribution

Top 34 Data sources

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