Report shows average PM2.5 level of Chinese cities close to WHO Interim Target-1, the result of a seven-year battle for blue skies

Clean Air Asia’s latest report, China Air 2020 – Air Pollution Prevention and Control Progress in Chinese Cities, found that the air quality of Chinese cities in 2019 generally continued the trend of improvement as seen in the previous six years. The average annual mean concentration of PM2.5 of 337 Chinese cities was down to 36 μg/m3, close to the WHO Interim Target-1 (35 μg/m3).

The China Air 2020 report, the sixth in the China Air series, analyzes air quality from 337 Chinese cities at the prefecture level and above in 2019. It also provides a recap of China’s policies, management measures, and real progress in air pollution prevention and control.

The report shows that the overall air quality in Chinese cities continued to improve in 2019. Among the 337 cities, 46.6% met the national air quality standards, with the number of attainment cities increasing by 36.

“In the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, where the haze was most serious, air quality improvement is notable,” said Fu Lu, Clean Air Asia China Director. “The PM2.5 concentration in this region dropped by about 50 percent in 2019 compared with 2013.”

According to the report, while the Chinese public is embracing more blue skies across the country, and the refined management of air pollution prevention and control has been promoted and has seen gradual improvement.

“In 2019, more air quality monitoring stations were built, new supervision technologies were adopted, and ultra-low emission retrofitting was done in the iron and steel industries,” Fu Lu said. “These measures provide a more solid scientific and technological foundation, and deliver comprehensive analytical support for air pollution prevention and control in regions and cities.”

The report also points out the emerging air quality management problems that China is facing. In 2019, the average concentration of ozone (O3) across 337 cities was 148 μg/m3, indicating a year-on-year increase of 6.5 percent. In the Pearl River Delta region, there was a 17.3 percent increase.

“Importance should be attached to the coordinated control of O3 and PM2.5 during the 14th Five-Year Plan period, which means further adopting emission reduction measures to limit PM2.5 concentration while also curbing the rising trend of O3 pollution,” said Professor He Kebin from Tsinghua University and Chairman of Clean Air Asia’s China Advisory Committee.

Fu Lu said structural adjustment was fundamental. “Energy restructuring, industry restructuring, and transportation restructuring should be deepened to reduce air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in a coordinated way. This will also pave way for President Xi’s pledge to reach a CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”

The 2020 China Blue Sky City Ranking of the report, which evaluates 168 key cities’ efforts and achievements in air quality management, highlights the gap between cities in terms of air quality and air pollution control measures. First-tier cities continue to have leading policies and measures, while small and medium-sized cities were strengthening their capacity. Cities with relatively poor performances in the ranking mainly come from Shanxi, Henan and Anhui. These cities either have worsened air quality or insufficient measures.

China Air 2020 proposes differentiated targets be set for these cities during the 14th Five-Year Plan period, with distinct strategies outlined to achieve them. “Ambitious targets can be set for ‘top students’. This will encourage them to strive for further improvements and avoid any backsliding. Non-attainment cities should be urged to publicize their attainment plans and lay out the timetable and roadmap for attainment,” Fu Lu said.

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

The Chinese-language version can be downloaded at

Media contact:

Mingming Liu, Clean Air Asia: +86 1381 198 5912, [email protected]