What is the air quality level in Xian, China?

The below article talks about air quality in Xian (China), factors that affect air quality in China, what can be done to address these concerns, along with some frequently asked questions about air pollution and air quality in China. 

What is the current air quality level in Xian, China?

The city currently experiences unhealthy levels of air quality. The main pollutant is said to be particulate matter, particularly PM2.5, and it is said that its concentrations exceed 15.6 times the concentration limits set by the WHO. All citizens of the area are advised to avoid long-term exposure, wear a mask when they do go outside, restrict any outdoor activities, use air purifiers when possible, etc. Future air quality forecasts into the area show that Xian will continue experiencing extremely unhealthy and hazardous air quality levels, and citizens are to take necessary precautions to protect themselves. 

Why is air quality so bad in Xian?

China’s air pollution problems have long been at the forefront of the need for climate action. It was a relief to citizens and global communities likewise when China released its Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan, also known as the Ten measures for Air. Since the policy was enforced into the country in 2013, the country has seen significant improvements in its air quality, and has continuously worked towards achieving its goals of having “blue skies”. By the end of 2017, the country made significant improvements to the concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) in the major cluster cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou (Liu X., 2019). 

One of the major reasons that Xian has continued to experience poor air quality levels, despite the country’s efforts through various policy implementations is due to its geographical restrictions. The Xi’an City, capital of China’s northwestern Shaanxi Province, over the years has gained much notoriety due to the hazardous levels of air quality observed. It was observed that in 2016, the city had officially experienced the largest year-over-year percentage increases in the annual percentage of days with polluted days per year. It had crossed the limit by 50.87%, the average concentrations of particulate matter PM2.5 were approximately above 22.41% of set limits, with respect to the country’s other 31 provincial capitals. In the following year, 2017, the particulate matter concentrations were found to be more than seven times higher than the global limits set by WHO and also held the second-highest position in particulate matter concentration with respect to the other provincial capitals. 

By 2017, the year-over-year pollutant concentration levels for the number of polluted days in Xian had shifted to third place. The cities of Harbin and Hohhot now held the first and second positions, respectively. The below image is a depiction of the annual percentage changes made in particulate matter concentrations in the country between 2016 – 2017, with the help of the policies that were set in place. 

Source: Liu X., 2019

Like several cities in China that face air pollution, Xi’an too, has a heavy reliance on fossil fuels for industrial purposes, power generation, domestic uses, fuel for vehicles, etc. Emissions from approximately 2.8 million vehicles in Xi’an are amongst the top contributors to toxic emissions in the city. As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to tackle air quality issues in Xi’an due to the geographical restrictions that the city presents. The city of Xi’an sits in a basin with the Loess Plateau to the north and the Qinling Mountains to the south. The mountains surrounding the city, shelters the area from meteorological events including rains and strong winds, which could have potentially reduced pollutant concentrations in the area. The very fact that the large mountains loom over the city, makes it a stagnant area where pollutants collect over the city, forming a smothering layer over the area and its citizens. 

Besides the mountains that slow the rates of dispersion of pollutants over the city, the city is also adjacent to China’s largest desert regions, which leaves the city extremely vulnerable to the effects of sandstorms. This means that a larger volume of dust and sand is blown into the city without means of dispersion, and this subsequently causes an increase in particulate matter concentration in the area. In addition to the restrictions presented by geographical factors in the city, many scholars have recognized that climate policy implementation has been severely lacking in the area. While the country’s other provincial capitals have made significant strides in various policy implementations including those that focused on reducing dependence on fossil fuels, Xi’an has still the very basic progress left to be made.

With respect to policies that were supposed to be implemented in the area, the government of Xian noticed that they were severely lacking in the resources they required to make the changes that were asked of them. For example, when the policy for switching from coal to natural gas for residential heating was enforced across the country, the government of Xian recognized that they did not have enough natural gas to make the said transition, which meant the enforcement of the policy was only half-implemented. While the transition rates were significant enough to match the rates of the main city, Beijing at the time, it was later found that the lack of availability of natural gas, reduced the reliability of the policy to ensure heating for citizens, especially in rural areas. 

Furthermore, the methods of the government of Xian, when it came to reducing emissions were to not use certain equipment including coal-fired boilers amongst others. This was not a permanent solution, and could only lead to minuscule changes to air quality levels in the area. It is important that state and private actors realize that switching off does not equal the reduction of emissions, as starting them again would cause the same amount of emissions in a shorter span of time. Neither did it change the city’s dependence on fossil fuels for everyday activities. Even within the enforcement front of climate policies, there were several scandals in regards to officials in the area obstructing the collection of air quality data, in an effort to tamper with the data that would be produced. These scandals further cemented the views that several loopholes were being used to ignore the dire needs of the city and its citizens. 

What needs to be done in Xi’an?

  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuels, particularly coal for power generation and residential heating, and fuel sources for vehicles. 
  • Change the energy structure of the city, and reroute the energy needs of the city through sustainable channels or sources of energy with a lower carbon footprint.
  • Invest in clean energy sources and start the transition towards the engagement with clean energy through subsidies and benefits provided to citizens and larger stakeholders. 
  • Re-evaluate industrial activities and enforce stricter regulatory standards so that stakeholders make the necessary changes to address their emissions. 
  • Promote the growth of low to zero-emission industries and activities. 
  • Work with other state actors to form stronger strategies that meet the needs of the city, and ensure that the strategies meet the geographical requirements of the area and that there is constant evaluation and monitoring to ensure efficient results. 
  • Engage with various stakeholders in the city to ensure that there is a holistic and realistic approach taken towards climate action and climate ambition. Enforcing a participatory approach to the matter would increase rates of participation and efficiency of results. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How is the air quality in Xian, China?

Which cities in China experience the worst air quality?

Source: IQAir, 2022 February 17

1Aksu, Xinjiang759
2Taiyuan, Shanxi196
3Yuxia, Shaanxi178
4Jinzhong, Shanxi175
5Baoji, Shaanxi169
6Linfen, Shanxi166
7Nanyang, Henan165
8Sanmenxia, Henan164
9Hohhot, Inner Mongolia163
10Shuozhou, Shanxi163

What are the air quality levels in Xian, China?

Source: IQAir, 2022 February 17

2Xi’an – High-tech West District168
3Xi’an – Qujiang Cultural Industry Group, Xian167
5Xi’an – Lintong District160
6City People’s Stadium158
8Xi’an – Economic Development Zone, Xian156
9Xi’an – Textile City156

Other FAQs about Air quality that you may be interested in.

Why is oxygen important to air quality?

Changes to atmospheric pressure due to changes in temperature

Perfluorocarbons (PFCs): What do you need to know?


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Dayen D. (2022, January 18). The Global Risk from China’s Desire for a Blue Sky. Economic Policy. The American Prospect. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://prospect.org/economy/global-risk-from-chinas-desire-for-blue-sky/ 

IQAir. (2022, February 17). Air Quality in Xian. Air Quality Index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in Xian. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.iqair.com/in-en/china/shaanxi/xian 

IQAir. (2022, February 17). Real-time China city ranking. Live AQI City Ranking. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.iqair.com/in-en/china/shaanxi/xian

IQAir. (2022, February 17). Real-time Xian air quality ranking. Live Xian AQI Ranking. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.iqair.com/in-en/china/shaanxi/xian

Liu X. (2019, July 09). The Smog-Choked Ancient Capital: Facing Xi’an’s Air Quality Issue. Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.asiapacific.ca/blog/smog-choked-ancient-capital-facing-xians-air-quality-issue 

Liu Z., Deng Z., He G., Wang H., Zhang X., Lin J., Qi Y., & Liang X. (2021, December 21). Challenges and opportunities for carbon neutrality in China. Nature Reviews Earth and Environment. 3. pp. 141 – 155. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.nature.com/articles/s43017-021-00244-x