EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Natural gas shortages during the “coal-to-gas” transition in China have caused a large redistribution of air pollution in winter 2017

Siwen Wang1, Hang Su1, Chuchu Chen1, Wei Tao1, David Streets2, Zifeng Lu2, Bo Zheng3, Gregory Carmichael4,5, Jos Lelieveld1, Ulrich Pöschl1, and Yafang Cheng1
Siwen Wang et al.
  • 1Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany (
  • 2Energy Systems Division, Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, USA
  • 3Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, LSCE/IPSL, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Université Paris-Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, France
  • 4College of Engineering, University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA
  • 5Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA

Improving air quality is an important driving force for China’s move toward clean energy. Since 2017, the “coal-to-gas” and “coal-to-electricity” strategies have been extensively implemented in northern China, aiming at reducing dispersed coal consumption and related air pollution by promoting the use of clean and low-carbon fuels. Our analyses show that on top of meteorological influences, the effective emission mitigation measures achieved an average decrease of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations of ∼14% in Beijing and surrounding areas (the “2+26” pilot cities) in winter 2017 compared to the same period of 2016, where the dispersed coal control measures contributed ∼60% of the total PM2.5 reductions. However, the localized air quality improvement was accompanied by a contemporaneous ∼15% upsurge of PM2.5 concentrations over large areas in southern China. We find that the pollution transfer that resulted from a shift in emissions was of a high likelihood caused by a natural gas shortage in the south due to the coal-to-gas transition in the north. The overall shortage of natural gas greatly jeopardized the air quality benefits of the coal-to-gas strategy in winter 2017 and reflects structural challenges and potential threats in China’s clean-energy transition. Our finding highlights the importance and necessity of synergy between environmental and energy policymaking to address the grand challenge of an actionable future to achieve the cobenefits of air quality, human health, and climate.

How to cite: Wang, S., Su, H., Chen, C., Tao, W., Streets, D., Lu, Z., Zheng, B., Carmichael, G., Lelieveld, J., Pöschl, U., and Cheng, Y.: Natural gas shortages during the “coal-to-gas” transition in China have caused a large redistribution of air pollution in winter 2017, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-15706,, 2021.

Corresponding presentation materials formerly uploaded have been withdrawn.