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New in-depth analysis into the co-benefits of air quality and climate mitigation in two key Chinese provinces

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solar panels in Shandong province

Today, the Center for Global Sustainability (CGS) at the University of Maryland released the full analysis of policy opportunities and strategies to reduce carbon dioxide and local air pollutant emissions in two Chinese provinces—Guangdong and Shandong—through developing provincial decarbonization pathways and analyzing local air pollutant improvement.

The analysis found that two of the most populated Chinese provinces cannot reach World Health Organization (WHO) standards for air quality by 2050 without also taking steps to transition to clean energy. Current air pollution policies that focus on end-of-pipe control policies may have large impacts in the near term, but they must be coupled with climate change mitigation to achieve significant, long-lasting improvement. 

“Our analysis found that through 2050, the biggest opportunities to reduce air pollution are through climate mitigation compared to just end-of-pipe controls,” says Jenna Behrendt, Research Manager at CGS and one of the report’s co-authors. “Implementing energy transition and end-of-pipe control policies together significantly improves public health outcomes in both provinces, avoiding almost 300,000 PM2.5 related deaths in 2050.”

Two of China’s key policy goals, achieving carbon neutrality before 2060 and improving air quality standards by 2035, present an opportunity for coordinated action that can deliver major reductions on both fronts. However, pathways towards net-zero emissions, as well as air quality and the associated public health issues vary largely, making it critical to understand province-specific challenges and opportunities to deliver climate and air quality goals.

Expanding upon previous research, this analysis conducted a deep dive into the impacts of sector-specific pathways and technologies for decarbonization and improved air quality in Guangdong and Shandong. These provinces have two of the highest populations and GDPs, but very different climates, energy structures, and population concentrations. This analysis provides near-term and long-term actions across sectors within Guangdong and Shandong provinces to enhance decarbonization and air quality improvement. 

“The pathways presented in this paper provide specific near-term and long-term strategies for reducing greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions in Guangdong and Shandong while emphasizing the benefits of tackling these two issues together,” says Ryna Cui, Research Director at CGS and head of the China Program. “Provincial pathways show different sectoral strategies to China’s net-zero emissions –  Guangdong’s transition requires significant reductions in the transportation and buildings sectors, while Shandong’s pathway largely focuses on reducing emissions from the power and industry sectors.”

Climate mitigation policies are not only beneficial but necessary to achieve sustained, long-term particulate pollution reductions. Without a clean energy transition, neither province will achieve the most stringent WHO air quality standards by 2050. Current air pollution policies that focus on end-of-pipe control policies may have large impacts in the near term but must be coupled with climate change mitigation to achieve significant, long-lasting improvement. 

The analysis assessed which climate change mitigation measures can deliver the largest public health benefits and should be prioritized. It found that phasing out solid fuels in rural residential buildings and targeting super-polluting facilities in industry and power sectors delivers the largest near-term air quality and health benefits.

Coordinated strategies can deliver reductions of both greenhouse gas and local air pollutant emissions to help China achieve its goals on both fronts. This report provides critical insights to understand the relationship between decarbonization and improved health outcomes by evaluating air pollutant concentration and public health impacts from climate mitigation.

Download the report and summary for policymakers here.

For Media Inquiries:
Shannon Kennedy
Strategic Engagement Manager, CGS
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