Despite significant increases in particulate pollution (PM2.5) in many regions of the world, global pollution has declined since 2013. That decline is due entirely to China’s success in steeply reducing pollution in 2013, China experienced some of its highest pollution levels to that point, and public awareness and criticism reached new heights. The following year, at the 2014 annual meeting of the People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang declared a “war against pollution.”
China’s strict policy action led to a swift reduction in pollution. Particulate pollution in China declined by 42.3 percent between 2013 and 2021 and by 5.3 percent from 2020 to 2021 alone. Because of these air quality improvements, the average Chinese citizen can expect to live 2.2 years longer, provided the reductions are sustained. Beijing province experienced the largest decline in pollution, dropping 56.2 percent in just eight years. If this success is sustained, the average person living there could expect to live 4.2 years longer. Despite tremendous progress over the past few years, there is still much work to do to reduce pollution in China. The pollution there is still six times the WHO guideline and remains one of the top threats to life expectancy in the country. As China enters the next phase of its “war against pollution,” the country has an opportunity to place more emphasis on market-based approaches in order to more sustainably reduce pollution at a lower cost. In 2021, China launched its carbon emissions trading system (ETS), which has already become the world’s largest carbon market, three times bigger than the European Union’s and is forecasted to grow 70 percent under plans to add heavy industry and manufacturing. The market’s scale could position the country well for the potential adoption of a market for conventional air pollution.