China Blue Sky City Rankings show the efforts made and the impact on air pollution in Chinese cities

Clean Air Asia’s latest report, China Air 2019 – Air Pollution Prevention and Control Progress in Chinese Cities, found that Chinese cities continued to build on their air quality improvement of the previous five years. PM2.5 pollution was under continuous and effective control, with declines in both annual average concentration and the percentage of cities that failed to meet PM2.5 standards. However, more than half of the cities studied still exceeded the standard for PM2.5, and ground-level ozone pollution in Chinese cities worsened.

The China Air 2019 report (the fifth in the China Air series) analyzes air quality data from 338 Chinese cities at the prefecture level and above in 2018. It also provides a recap of China’s policies, management measures and real progress in air pollution prevention and control. For the first time, this report conducted a comprehensive ranking of 169 key cities on air quality management, the China Blue Sky City Rankings.

In this ranking, cities in Northeast China and the Yangtze River Delta constituted half of the cities with excellent scores on air quality improvement. The capital cities of Northeast China (Shenyang, Changchun, Harbin) and Dalian ranked among the top following their relatively large improvement in air quality, with Changchun securing the top spot. The three cities at the bottom of the rankings were Xianyang, Weinan and, worst of all, Linfen. All are located in the Fen-Wei Plains – a new key region that has suffered from clearly worsening air quality in recent years.

These rankings evaluate cities’ air quality improvement and adopted policies with an “effect score” to measure air quality improvement, and an “effort score” that evaluates adopted clean air policies and measures. Scores were determined using an air quality management assessment tool based on a framework developed by Clean Air Asia.

Beijing ranked first on effort score. “It’s been shown that first-tier cities put forth outstanding performances thanks to some common traits, including strong fiscal capacity, research ability and a high level of planning,” said Clean Air Asia China Director Dr. Fu Lu. “Their great ‘hard power’ of technology and ‘soft power’ of capacity allowed them to inject more resources in a bid to improve air quality compared with other cities.”

“2018 was a crucial year for air pollution prevention and control in China. It saw the end of the implementation of the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Air Pollution, and the start of the Three-Year Action Plan for Winning the Blue Sky Defense Battle. Implementation of air pollution prevention and control policies expanded, deepened and became more precise,” said He Kebin, Dean of the School of Environment of Tsinghua University and Chairman of the China Advisory Committee of Clean Air Asia.

According to the China Air 2019 report, air quality nationwide saw continued improvement in 2018. On average, the number of good air quality days made up 79.3% of the year in the 338 Chinese cities studied, a rise from 78% in 2017; and 193 cities had more than 80% good air quality days, with an increase of 18 cities compared with 2017. The average annual PM2.5 concentration continued to decline, but cities with excessive concentrations still accounted for more than half of the 338 cities.

“A big reason for the air quality improvement is that some cities concentrated on identifying the main problems behind their local air pollution control efforts, focusing on the major pollution sources and emission characteristics to take actions proactively,” said Dr. Fu Lu.

Nonetheless, ground-level ozone (O3) pollution worsened, with the annual average concentration, as well as the number of days and cities failing to meet O3 pollution standards all on the rise. Ground-level ozone is therefore becoming a prominent challenge for air pollution prevention and control in Chinese cities.

“By the end of 2018, only some 50 cities, or roughly one-quarter of the non-attainment cities, have openly released their air quality attainment plans. We suggest Chinese cities set unambiguous timetables and roadmaps for the attainment of air quality standards, which is crucial for cities’ establishment of medium and long-term air quality improvement strategies,” said Dr. Fu Lu.

The English-language version of the report can be downloaded at:
The Chinese-language version can be downloaded at: