Due to winter heating, the situation becomes worse in northern China. In 2013, the coal to gas policy was implemented in Beijing, China. It aimed at replacing coal used in the heating system in winter with natural gas. However, its effects were not examined thoroughly. However, the impact of coal to gas policy in China was not examined till several years after its implementation.

To examine the impact of the coal to gas policy on air quality, a panel datasheet of 16 districts in Beijing is used. There are various strong evidence that shows the improved air quality in Beijing after the implementation of the policy.

Impact of Coal to Gas Policy on Air Quality in China

With technological advancements, China is also facing air pollution, one of the serious environmental problems. This policy was launched as a measure to reduce air pollution in China. It includes switching the residential heating sources from coal to natural gas.

  • On average, 4.27 million square meters in each region shifted from coal to natural gas every year.
  • In 2006, the maximum area conversion in Daxing District reached around 26.01 million square meters.
  • The average car growth rate was 2.15% and the average energy usage was 5.795%.
  • Green plants covered around 47.94% of the city and permanent residents grew by 0.82% annually.

Based on the description of variations in the model, the following differences were found among the 16 districts of Beijing.

  • Heating transition area and energy use efficiency
  • The growth rate of cars and the growth rate of the permanent population
  • Afforestation rate and number of waste treatment plants
  • Proportion of 2nd and 3rd industries to GDP

Highlights: Coal to Gas Policy Impact

  • There has been a reduction in sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels so far.
  • PM10 – Particulate matter smaller than 10 μm
  • PM2.5 – smaller than 2.5 μm
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) concentrations yearly – 12.8%, 4.89%, 11.94%, and 11.10%.
  • It is found that coal to gas policy has been more effective in areas with less energy usage.

Air Pollution Scenario in China

In recent decades, the air quality in China has deteriorated. From 1960 to 1979, the number of haze and fog days in winter showed an upward trend. Showing stability for 20 years, these levels have started to grow rapidly since 2000.

  • The average annual concentration of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 μm (PM2.5) was 15 µg/m3 and 10 μm (PM10) was 40 µg/m3 by 2013. It was larger than above in 31 major Chinese cities.
  • Around 1.6 million deaths every year are caused by air pollution, according to previous studies. This ratio accounts for about 17% of the country’s annual deaths.
  • Air quality in northern China was worse than in the southern parts, especially during winter. This was mainly due to coal-fired heating systems used in the northern regions.
  • Improvements have been recorded in air quality overall but still, there is no improvement during winter.
Pic Credits: AQLI

Measures Taken

To address this widespread problem, various policies were issued, particularly in the northern region during winter.

September 2013 – the Beijing Clean Air Action Plan

It focused on emission reduction by adjusting energy structures in the upcoming 5 years. Coal to gas policy was the main part of this plan. According to it, coal combustion in central urban areas would be prohibited.

For rural areas, the government would assist in reducing coal combustion by substituting it with natural gas. Also, 4 major thermal power centers using coal, including the main fuel source used in Beijing, would be shut down.

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Coal to Gas Policy: Effects on Air Pollution and Environment

To examine the urban and suburban impacts, along with other factors causing air pollution, a panel dataset from 2014 to 2018 is referred. This data was extracted from 16 different Beijing districts.

This led to the preparation of the 1st difference model determining the effects of the coal to gas policy on air quality index (AQI), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), PM10, and PM2.5.

Transition in Heating and Air Pollution

For empirical research, scientists used variance analysis to test the effectiveness of the transition in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions. SO2 concentration data from the middle, south, and north Urumqi from 2009 to 2013. The data shows the positive impact of the policy in reducing SO2 concentrations.

  1. Data from 258 Chinese cities from 2013 to 2015 and a difference in differences (DID) specification. It shows an alleviation in air pollution in winter in northern cities after the implementation of the policy.
  2. Based on the PSM-DID and DID models, researchers found that the policy reduced industrial smoke and dust emissions.
  3. The data from 41 cities in China from 2003 to 2015 shows that policies had no significant impact on reducing sulfur dioxide emissions, energy, and domestic electrical power consumption.

Winter Heating and Air Pollution in China

To study the impact of winter heating on air pollution researchers used regression discontinuity (RD) designs. This data was taken from 90 cities in China from 1981 to 2000.


  • Winter heating increased the average concentration of suspended particles by 300 mg/m3.
  • There was no significant impact on heating the concentration of NOx and SO2.
  • In northern China, the average concentration of suspended particles was 55% higher or 184 mg/m3.
  • People are more likely to suffer from lung and heart diseases, making life expectancy about 5.5 years less.

Another researcher collected daily air pollution data from 76 cities in China from 2014 to 2016. Due to winter heating the result shows an increase in the following indexes:

  • The AQI index in northern China – 10.4%.
  • PM2.5 concentrations – 17.25%
  • CO2 – 9.84%
  • NO2 – 5.23%
  • SO2 – 17.1%

Other research air pollution indicators were around 26.79%, 30.45%, and 74.10% higher than those recorded in the southern regions.

Pic Credits: PLOS.org

Transportation Policy and Air Pollution

The impact of transportation policies on air pollution has been studied by various scholars. As a result, they found that the driving restriction policy is the most controversial here. Using the RD model, researchers studied Beijing’s motor vehicle restriction policy’s effectiveness.

Results – 1

  • Every other day and one day a week restriction, both were beneficial for air quality.
  • Possibly, it reduced the particulate matter concentration by 18% to 21%.
  • For another research, two RD models were established to compare air pollutant concentrations between Tianjin and Beijing between 2014 and 2018.

Results – 2

  • Air quality improved in Beijing but not in Tianjin with no reduction in PM and NO concentrations.
  • Lanzhou data from 2013 to 2014 shows that the policy was effective only for a short term.
  • The policy’s effect was heteroscedastic.
  • Some residents purchased 2nd vehicle to avoid the traffic restriction policy, leading to more air pollution.
  • It also highlighted that driving restrictions only reduce NO concentrations but NO2 and O3 remain unaffected.

Descriptive Analysis and Summary Statistics

The following figures show air pollutant concentrations between urban and suburban areas from 2014 and 2018. Among these, PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations were higher than 120 µg/m3 and 90 µg/m3. The adjacent figure shows the reduction in average air concentration by 2018.

Pic Credits: MDPI
Pic Credits: MDPI

The next figure shows the same trend for CO in addition to the t-test conducted for air pollutants between suburban and urban areas.

Pic Credits: MDPI

Below is the table to show the summary statistics of the main variables used in the model. The average AQI between 2014 and 2018 was 98.55. The average concentration of SO2 (16.34 µg/m3), NO2 (51.75 µg/m3), and CO (1.502 µg/m3).

Variable (observed cities 80)MeanStd.Dev.MinMax
Δgas area4.2736.664026.01
Energy Efficient5.7952.8340.60016.06
Rate of car growth0.02150.0226−0.03730.0788
Tree plantations47.9420.8914.6080
Rate of popularity0.008240.0268−0.03850.0779
Pele life0.2300.05070.1230.353
Waste plant1.6131.04903

From the analysis mentioned above, it is clear that most districts in Beijing experienced a high index of air pollution. However, some regions showed significant differences too.


The following table shows the estimated impact of the policy on air pollutant concentrations under the control of other variables.

Pic Credits: Research Gate

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Conclusions and Policy Implications

With the unique panel dataset, researchers find evidence that coal to gas policy does contribute to improving air quality.

Annually, it reduced the AQI by 10.79% and SO2 concentrations by 12.08%, PM10 by 13.07%, PM2.5 by 11.94%, NO2 by 4.89%, and CO by 11.10%. It clearly shows that policy proved to be more effective in areas with lower energy use efficiency. However, for other pollutants, the policy showed similar effectiveness between urban and suburban areas.

Based on the above conclusions, several policy implications were generated.

  • Transition to clean energy sources for winter heating
  • Coal to gas policy should be extended to suburban areas.
  • To develop techniques for increasing energy use efficiency
  • Motor vehicle growth should be regulated to reduce air pollution.

Air Pollution Facts – Worldwide

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality model:

  1. Areas exceeding the WHO’s limit house 92% of the world’s population.
  2. 90% of deaths related to air pollution occur in low and middle-income countries, mainly in the western Pacific region and Southeast Asia.


Industrial production, emissions from vehicles, waste incineration, and coal combustion are the main causes of air pollution.


  1. Humans are at risk of asthma, stroke, and myocardial infarction, along with badly affected cognitive abilities and mental states.
  2. Long-term exposure results in reduced life expectancy and impeded cognitive performance.
  3. Air pollution not only affects us physically but mentally too. Reduced happiness levels and increased depression symptoms are among the most common impacts.

Source: The Impact of “Coal to Gas” Policy on Air Quality: Evidence from Beijing, China


Olivia is committed to green energy and works to help ensure our planet's long-term habitability. She takes part in environmental conservation by recycling and avoiding single-use plastic.

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