An August 2016 report by the Health Effects Institute provides the first comprehensive assessment of the current and predicted burdens of disease attributable to coal-burning and other major sources of air pollution in China at the national and provincial levels. Top findings:
- Coal-burning was the most important contributor to ambient PM2.5, responsible for 40% of population-weighted PM2.5 in China. Given the large impact of coal combustion on ambient PM2.5 concentrations, coal combustion was an important contributor to disease burden in China, causing an estimated 366,000 deaths in 2013.
- Industrial sources, from both coal (155,000 deaths) and noncoal (95,000 deaths) emissions, were the largest sectoral contributor to disease burden in China, responsible for 27% of the mortality attributable to ambient PM2.5 in 2013.
- Household solid fuel combustion, of both coal and biomass, is also an important source of disease burden in China. Domestic biomass and coal combustion were together the next greatest contributor to ambient PM2.5-attributable mortality in 2013 — with a combined impact (177,000 deaths; 19% of the mortality attributable to ambient PM2.5 in 2013) larger than that of industrial coal (155,000 deaths), transportation (137,000 deaths), or coal combustion in power plants (86,500 deaths).
- Under four different energy efficiency and air pollution control scenarios, population-weighted mean exposure to PM2.5 is projected to decrease significantly (from 54 µg/m3 in 2013 to 50, 38, 38, and 27 µg/m3 in 2030 for BAU1, BAU2, PC1, and PC2, respectively).
- Despite these air pollution reductions, the overall health burden is expected to increase by 2030 as the population ages and becomes more susceptible to diseases most closely linked to air pollution.
- Even under the most stringent energy use and pollution control future scenario, coal will remain the single largest source contributor to ambient PM2.5 and health burden in 2030. This finding highlights the urgent need for even more aggressive strategies to reduce emissions from coal combustion along with reductions in emissions from other sectors, strategies that are beginning to be incorporated in the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan.
- The GBD MAPS estimates suggest that emissions reductions in the industrial and domestic sectors should be prioritized for future energy and air quality management strategies. Because domestic combustion also leads to a large disease burden due to household air pollution exposure, reductions in domestic biomass and coal emissions would be particularly beneficial to public health.