27 October 2016

Beijing’s bad air boom is partly homemade

Options Magazine Winter 2016: A significant proportion of Beijing's air pollution comes from household cooking and heating, according to IIASA research.

© Chrispyphoto | Flickr

© Chrispyphoto | Flickr

Images of Beijing cloaked in choking pollution, its citizens breathing through masks, are now iconic. On the city’s red alert days this extreme pollution confines people to their homes and brings industry to a halt. While Beijing authorities are shutting down coal‑fired power stations and cleaning up industry, work by IIASA researchers Jun Liu and Zbigniew Klimont shows that dramatic improvements in air quality could also be achieved in the living rooms and kitchens of the city’s residents.

“Coal is the primary fuel for heating in winter while biomass and coal are the primary fuels for cooking,” says Liu. She points out that many of the heating and cooking devices have no end‑of‑pipe emission controls. As a result, these household emissions remain largely unrecognized as a source of ambient air pollution. At the same time reduction in pollution from power stations means the residential sector’s share of total emissions is increasing.

What will help Beijing’s citizens breathe freely? More efficient stoves in the short‑term say the researchers, but cleaner fuel and eliminating solid fuel should be the long‑term goal.

Another powerful incentive to clean up Beijing’s air is climate change mitigation. "Clean‑burning stoves improve air quality but do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions by much,” says Liu. To hit both targets—clean air and climate mitigation—the researchers recommend investment in renewable energies such as solar and biogas.

Text by Kerry Skyring

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Last edited: 30 August 2017


Zbigniew Klimont

Senior Research Scholar

Air Quality and Greenhouse Gases

T +43(0) 2236 807 547


Liu J, Mauzerall DL, Chen Q, Zhang Q, Song Y, Peng W, Klimont Z , Qiu X, et al. (2016). Air pollutant emissions from Chinese households: A major and underappreciated ambient pollution source. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (28): 7756-7761. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1604537113.

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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