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An evaluation of air quality, home heating and well-being under Beijing’s programme to eliminate household coal use


To mitigate health and environmental effects from coal-based home heating, the Beijing Municipality has implemented a programme in 3,700 villages that subsidizes electric heat pumps and electricity, and bans coal. Here, we estimate this programme’s impact on household energy use and expenditure, well-being and indoor environmental quality by comparing treated and untreated villages in three districts that vary in socioeconomic conditions. We find that, under this programme, households in high- and middle-income districts eliminated coal use with benefits to indoor temperature, indoor air pollution and life satisfaction. In a low-income district, the policy had partial effectiveness: coal use was contingent on household wealth, and there were fewer benefits to the indoor environment and negative impacts on well-being. These results suggest that a rapid household energy transition can be effective, but it is essential to appropriately control subsidies and fine-tune supports to limit transitional hardships for the less affluent.

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Datasets generated and analysed during this study will be made available on a case-by-case basis on request to the corresponding author, with input from the co-authors, subject to compliance with Research Ethics Board restrictions for the survey data.

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We are grateful to A. Ballyk and M. Smailes for research assistance, and S. Harper and R. Ravishankara for comments on a draft of the manuscript. This work was supported by a McGill University Emerging Scholars Accelerator grant and by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grants 435-2016-0531 and 430-2017-00998.

Author information

C.B.-L., J.B., E.C. and B.R. designed the study, led the field work and wrote the paper. C.B.-L. and E.C. carried out the analysis. C.B.-L., J.B., E.C., B.R., S.T. and Y.Z. discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Christopher Barrington-Leigh.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Tables 1–12, Supplementary Figs. 1–9, Supplementary Notes 1 and 2, Supplementary References

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Fig. 1: Coal storage and heating equipment.
Fig. 2: Study site locations within Beijing.

Beijing Office of Rural Affairs (map outline)

Fig. 3: Heating and expenditure for coal and electricity.
Fig. 4: Coal use versus wealth.
Fig. 5: Subjective evaluations of well-being.
Fig. 6: Cumulative distributions of indoor 24-h PM2.5 concentrations.
Fig. 7: Cumulative distributions of observed daytime temperature.