Did China Reduce 4X More Air Pollution Than US/EU?!

Did China reduce 4X more dangerous PM2.5 air pollution than the US and Europe?!

Take a look at viral claim, and find out what the facts really are!


Claim : China Reduced 4X More Air Pollution Than US / EU!

The Chinese 50 Cent Army (wumao, 五毛) and pro-CCP netizens are now promoting the story of how China reduced 4X more air pollution than the US and Europe.

This is based on a Bloomberg article, which declared “China has reduced air pollution nearly as much in seven years as the US did in three decades, helping to bring down average global smog levels in the process“.

Let’s take a closer look at the story, and see what the facts really are!

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China Significantly Reduced Air Pollution But Still Far From US / EU Levels

One can readily see why the Chinese 50 Cent Army (wumao, 五毛) and pro-CCP netizens are ecstatic about this, and they have the right to be.

That said, they are turning the great progress China has made into a pissing contest with the US and Europe. So let me just set the record straight.

Fact #1 : China Reduced Air Pollution By Almost 40%

First, let me confirm that the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) did indeed report that China successfully reduced dangerous PM2.5 air pollution by almost 40% between 2013 to 2020.

China must be congratulated for making such an incredible improvement, even though its 9% drop from 2019 to 2020 can be attributed to a drastic reduction of economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This isn’t just a technical achievement. The reduction in dangerous PM2.5 air pollution is estimated to add 2 years to the life expectancy of the Chinese people.

We should also applaud the Chinese for their very significant contribution to reducing global air pollution – without which, the global average air pollution would have increased, instead of fallen.

Fact #2 : China Air Pollution Was Incredibly High

Now, if the Chinese 50 Cent Army (wumao, 五毛) and pro-CCP netizens just celebrated that achievement, I would have celebrated it with them.

However, since they turned it into a pissing contest, I should point out that a big reason for China’s massive reduction was its incredibly bad PM2.5 air pollution.

Back in the early 2000s, air pollution in China grew so bad that the Air Quality Index (AQI) actually exceeded 500 points for the first time in November 2010 – far beyond the index limit of 300!

The US embassy in Beijing at that time labelled it as “crazy bad”, but later amended it to a more diplomatic “beyond index” – a feat that China repeated 3 times in the next year.

Air pollution was so bad the Chinese government asked foreign consulates to stop publishing their own air quality data. But it didn’t matter – even official Beijing data showed readings of up to 700!

It is from these dubious heights that China finally announced their “War Against Pollution”. Their incredible achievement in reducing air pollution was only made possible by the incredible air pollution they created in the first place.

China = national average, BTH = Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, YRD = Yangtze River Delta, PRD = Pearl River Delta

Fact #3 : Air Pollution In China Still High

Despite cutting down air pollution by almost 40% from 2013 to 2020, China still has high amounts of air pollution.

The EPIC chart above shows that the national average for air pollution in China remains above 30 µg/m³ – 6X above the new WHO guidelines.

Fact #4 : Pollution Reduction Partly Due To Lower Economic Activity

The EPIC report noted that 9% of the drop in China’s air pollution was from 2019 to 2020 – when economic activity in China was drastically reduced due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Without that 9% drop, the reduction in air pollution would be far less impressive, and China would be recording PM2.5 air pollution at about 35 µg/m³.

Fact #5 : US Has Far Lower Air Pollution

The wumao and pro-CCP netizens may cackle at how China managed to cut their air pollution 4X faster than the US, but that is only possible because the US already has relatively low air pollution.

Even though the United States actually increased its air pollution since 2019, its PM2.5 air pollution levels in the US remain 4X lower than China, at around 7.5 µg/m³.

More importantly, air pollution levels in the United States have remained under 13 µg/m³ since 1998 – at least 4X lower than China’s peak of about 53 µg/m³.

Fact #6 : Even Europe Has Far Lower Air Pollution

The wumao and pro-CCP netizens should also be wary about comparing China’s “quick” reduction in air pollution against Europe.

The EU has steadily reduced air pollution from a peak of just 16 µg/m³ to about 11 µg/m³ – just over half as much as China.

In other words – it is harder for Europe to reduce its air pollution levels which are already pretty low.

Fact #7 : US, EU + China Far From Achieving WHO PM2.5 Guideline

Now, let me end by pointing out that the US, the EU and China all FAIL to meet the updated WHO PM2.5 guideline of just 5 µg/m³.

It will take many years for either the US, the EU or China to hit that, and it would require a tremendous amount of political will and investment.

So instead of mocking other countries, can we just focus on reducing dangerous PM2.5 air pollution?

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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.

He continues to devote countless hours every day writing about tech, medicine and science, in his pursuit of facts in a post-truth world.


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