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New International Gas Union report highlights case studies of four cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Urumqi in China, and Santiago, Chile – benefiting from dramatic improvements in air quality thanks to natural gas switch

Geneva / Barcelona, 26 March 2018 – A new report from the International Gas Union (IGU) highlights how the increased use of, and switch to, natural gas in power generation, heating can significantly reduce air pollution – a direct cause of around 4000 deaths every day in China as recently as 2015.

Urban air pollution continues to be a major area of concern across developed and developing countries alike, with 87% of the global population currently living in areas exceeding the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines. In fact, the WHO has suggested that air pollution continues to be “the world’s single greatest environmental risk to health” – stark evidence that local, national and international governments must do more to tackle the problem and reduce the severe impact on human health.

With 1.6 million deaths in China throughout 2015 directly caused by PM2.5 pollution – or 4,000 deaths every day – this latest IGU report focuses on three City case studies within the country, and the steps they’ve taken to limit the environmental, health and economic consequences of pollutants. The study also looks at one South American city, Santiago, Chile, which has also seen dramatic improvements in its air quality in the two decades since it began to switch to a largely gas-powered economy.

The new research focuses heavily on the reasons behind, and positive benefits following, a widespread shift from coal to natural gas in residential and industrial energy production. The report highlights case studies in Shanghai, Beijing and Urumqi – three cities across China where local authorities have taken significant steps in fuel switching initiatives that have led, or are leading to, real progress in improving air quality without sacrificing economic development. The final case study examines similar initiatives in Santiago, Chile – a city once known for its poor air quality – where a switch to natural gas has played a central role in air quality regulation and improvement.

“Of the 5.9 billion people where measurement is available, 4.5 billion of those are exposed to Particulate Matter (PM) concentrations that are at least twice the WHO limit, or above. This, combined with the staggering statistic that PM caused roughly 17% of deaths in China in 2015, must signal to authorities that drastic action is needed,” said David Carroll, President of the IGU. “More must be done to tackle the severe impact this is having on human health without sacrificing economic growth – Shanghai, Beijing, Urumqi and Santiago are four prime examples of how this is achieveable, with natural gas playing a leading role”.

Report highlights:


  • In 2013, the city was experiencing a pollution crisis – dubbed ‘Airpocalypse’ – and over 50% of the days that year were ranked as unhealthy or worse for air quality
  • In 2014, as the city recorded PM concentrations of 85.9 μg/m3 (almost 9 times the WHO limit), the National Government announced a “war on smog” and intensified anti-pollution policies
  • With this in mind, and as the capital city, Beijing was one of the early targets in the government’s fight against pollution – in 2015 the city implemented an aggressive coal to gas substitution policy
  • In 2017, PM concentrations had dropped to 58 μg/m3 – a 54% decrease vs. 2016. That year over 4,450 coal-fired boilers were shut down, and 900,000 households being shifted from coal to gas since 2013



  • As one of China’s megacities, the urgency to address its air quality issues have been top of mind for the city and national authorities, since the late 1990’s.
  • Despite this, in 2000 there were more than 3,800 industrial boilers in operation. That year, Shanghai emitted 464,000 tons of SO2 and 141,200 tons of smoke and dust
  • From 2000-2012, Shanghai became the first city in China to embark on a coal-fired boiler retrofit program. This included a focus on enabling supply through completion of transmission and distribution pipe networks, and the enacting of measures for replacing coal with gas boilers
  • In 2012, the City established a fund for gas project incentives, and introduced coal-free and mostly-coal free areas. In 2015, the entire metropolitan area was required to become coal-free by the end of the year
  • By 2016, this had resulted in reduction of all major air pollutants:
    • PM2.5 concentration improved by 15.1% vs. 2015, and 27.4% vs. 2013
    • PM10 concentrations dropped by 14.5%, vs. 2015
    • Total city coal to gas consumption ratio dropped from 43% in 2013 to 33% in 2016



  • The city had one of the worst air quality rankings in the country, due to coal combustion, traffic, and biomass burning all emitting harmful aerosols
  • In late 2012, an air quality improvement initiative was launched to replace coal-fired heating with gas – which grew to 76% of the total heating fuel in the 2012/13 heating season from almost none. 12,900 coal boilers were replaced with gas in the first six months
  • By 2013, this resulted in monthly PM2.5 concentration dropping by 62.8% vs. 2012, a 5 MT reduction in coal consumption, and a 35,000-ton reduction in SO2 and 17,000 in soot
  • By 2014, gas had largely displaced coal as the dominant heating fuel, monthly PM2.5 concentrations had dropped by 75.5%, and there had been a 50% reduction in SO2 since the 2012 heating season. More importantly, this resulted in a 73% reduction in pollution-related lung cancer


Santiago, Chile:

  • In 1989, residential heating powered by wood-burning, transport activity, and the use of coal, fuel oil, and diesel by industry had all contributed to the city’s PM2.5 levels registering in excess of 68 μg/m3, seven times the recommended WHO level
  • Between 1992 and 1998, the city took its initial steps towards air quality regulation, creating a link with Argentina to enable supply of natural gas. Thanks to this, the first gas-fired power plant began generating in 1998
  • By 2004, gas supplied 70% of industrial and 24% of residential energy, before the supply was interrupted up until 2008. In 2009, however, a new LNG terminal was opened to restore supply and emissions dropped by 1.76 μg/m3, versus the 2004-2008 period
  • In 2016, the city has recorded a reduction of 39% of PM10 and 58% of PM2.5 since 1990, as well as a reduction of 2.63 μg/m3 of PM from industrial sources

Armed with the latest supporting data, the examples above, and other urban area case studies presented in previous IGU urban air quality studies, the IGU supports policies that reduce GHG emissions and emissions of health-damaging air pollutants such as:

  • Improvement of end-use energy efficiency;
  • Increases in combustion efficiency (reducing or eliminating black carbon and other products of incomplete combustion);
  • Encouragement of fuel switching;
  • Increased use of non-combustion renewable energies.


Supporting testimonial from local stakeholder:

Based on the analysis of PM filters from 1998 to 2012, it can be concluded that the introduction of mass use of natural gas replacing diesel in the industrial sector has had a positive impact on PM2.5 concentrations from industrial sources. Specifically, a close analysis of changes in industrial air pollutant emissions that resulted from the temporary interruption of supply from Argentina, and the consequent restoration of supply with the LNG terminal completion, demonstrate a strong positive correlation between using natural gas as fuel and cleaner air.
Dr Mauricio Osses A.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria, Santiago, Chile

To download the full report, please visit https://www.igu.org/resources

For further information please contact:

Menelaos (Mel) Ydreos
Director, External Affairs
International Gas Union (IGU)
Tel: +1-416-568-8382
Email: mydreos@igu.org


About The International Gas Union (IGU)

The International Gas Union (IGU) was founded in 1931 and is a worldwide non-profit organisation aimed at promoting the political, technical and economic progress of the gas industry. The Union has more than 150 members worldwide on all continents, representing approximately 97% of the world gas market. The members of the IGU are national associations and corporations within the gas industry worldwide. The IGU organises the World Gas Conference (WGC) every three years, with the forthcoming WGC taking place in Washington, D.C., United States, in June 2018. The IGU’s working organisation covers all aspects of the gas industry from exploration and production, storage, LNG, distribution and natural gas utilisation in all market segments. www.igu.org

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