Air pollution kills an estimated 4,000 people every day in China, which is why the country is taking significant measures to clean up the air. At the same time, China has pledged to support global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A new study published in the journal “Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment” estimates how effectively these two efforts can work together to tackle China’s air pollution problems.

Most of China’s air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are currently produced by its energy and industrial sectors, which are dominated by coal use. However, as private vehicle ownership and freight traffic has increased, so has the pollution from the transportation sector.

In turn, the researchers behind this new study looked at the combination of both putting a price on carbon (CO2) emissions and implementing the country's existing emissions standards for vehicles. According to MIT’s Paul Natsuo Kishimoto, who was the lead author on this new study that included researchers from MIT, Tsinghua University and Emory University:

In any province, transportation produces at most a quarter of all emissions that cause air pollution in China...Improving fuel economy and emissions control technology on new vehicles and replacing old cars, trucks, and buses would sharply reduce the transportation sector’s share of the problem — but have no effect on the rest of the country’s air pollution emissions. On the other hand, a climate policy would impact not only that transport share but everything else. An economy-wide carbon price would help reduce carbon emissions throughout the country, but especially in non-transportation sectors where it’s far less expensive to cut emissions. Both approaches are necessary and complimentary.”

Using an energy-economic model, Kishimoto’s team found that the combination of both vehicle emission standards and an economy-wide carbon price can work together to “form a highly effective coordinated policy package that supports China’s air quality and climate change mitigation goals.”

In other words, China’s combination of climate policies and vehicle emission standards could pack a strong “one-two punch”.

To learn more – one can access the entire research paper here and MIT’s recent press release here.