Smog-prone regions near Beijing and Shanghai posted big improvements in air quality in late 2019, but pollution in other parts of China worsened as dirty industries were relocated rather than shut down.
China's Premier Li Keqiang launched a "war on pollution" in 2014, but its main focus has been on clearing the skies in the heavily industrialised and politically sensitive Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and Yangtze river delta regions where smog levels are much higher than the national standard.
The two regions were on track to meet their target of cutting average concentrations of hazardous airborne particles, by 4 per cent and 2 per cent respectively over the six months to March 2020, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) said.
However, China's average was unchanged in the final quarter of 2019 according to analysis of government data by the Helsinki-based research group.
"The rest of the country outside the Beijing and Shanghai priority regions made little to no progress amid continued increases in coal and oil consumption," said Lauri Myllyvirta, CREA's lead analyst.
CREA warned China's war on pollution is increasingly subject to diminishing returns, after relying too much on the installation of control technology rather than cuts in fossil fuel use.
"Progress on air quality has relied entirely on better filters, and moving industrial production away from priority areas," said Myllyvirta, adding that China must now "accelerate the clean energy transition."
© RAW 2020