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Change in household fuels dominates the decrease in PM2.5 exposure and premature mortality in China in 2005–2015

Bin Zhao, Haotian Zheng, Shuxiao Wang, Kirk R. Smith, Xi Lu, Kristin Aunan, Yu Gu, Yuan Wang, Dian Ding, Jia Xing, Xiao Fu, Xudong Yang, Kuo-Nan Liou, Jiming Hao

To tackle the severe fine particle (PM2.5) pollution in China, the government has implemented stringent control policies mainly on power plants, industry, and transportation since 2005, but estimates of the effectiveness of the policy and the temporal trends in health impacts are subject to large uncertainties. By adopting an integrated approach that combines chemical transport simulation, ambient/household exposure evaluation, and health-impact assessment, we find that the integrated population-weighted exposure to PM2.5 (IPWE) decreased by 47% (95% confidence interval, 37–55%) from 2005 [180 (146–219) μg/m3] to 2015 [96 (83–111) μg/m3]. Unexpectedly, 90% (86–93%) of such reduction is attributed to reduced household solid-fuel use, primarily resulting from rapid urbanization and improved incomes rather than specific control policies. The IPWE due to household fuels for both cooking and heating decreased, but the impact of cooking is significantly larger. The reduced household-related IPWE is estimated to avoid 0.40 (0.25–0.57) million premature deaths annually, accounting for 33% of the PM2.5-induced mortality in 2015. The IPWE would be further reduced by 63% (57–68%) if the remaining household solid fuels were replaced by clean fuels, which would avoid an additional 0.51 (0.40–0.64) million premature deaths. Such a transition to clean fuels, especially for heating, requires technology innovation and policy support to overcome the barriers of high cost of distribution systems, as is recently being attempted in the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei area. We suggest that household-fuel use be more highly prioritized in national control policies, considering its effects on PM2.5 exposures.

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