2016-10-25: Reduction in NOx emissions over China: synthesis of satellite observations and emission inventories

Tropospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) column densities detected from space are widely used to infer trends in terrestrial nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. We study changes in NO2 column densities using the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) over China from 2005 to 2015 and compare them with the bottom-up inventory to examine NOx emission trends and their driving forces. From OMI measurements we detect the peak of NO2 column densities at a national level in the year 2011, with average NO2 column densities deceasing by 32% from 2011 to 2015 and corresponding to a simultaneous decline of 21% in bottom-up emission estimates.

A significant variation in the peak year of NO2 column densities over regions is observed. Because of the reasonable agreement between the peak year of NO2 columns and the start of deployment of denitration devices, we conclude that power plants are the primary contributor to the NO2 decline, which is further supported by the emission reduction of 56% from the power sector in the bottom-up emission inventory associated with the penetration of Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) increasing from 18% to 86% during 2011–2015. Meanwhile, regulations for vehicles also make a significant contribution to NOx emission reductions, in particular for a few urbanized regions (e.g., Beijing and Shanghai), where they implemented strict regulations for vehicle emissions years before the national schedule for SCR installations and thus reached their NO2 peak 2-3 years ahead of the deployment of denitration devices for power plants.

We conclude that emission control measures are capable of reducing China’s NOx emissions to a large extent, as is shown by our results, in particular after the year 2012. This strong decrease in NOx emissions suggests that measures can be taken in developing countries that will reduce emissions alongside with rapid economic development.

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Average OMI NO2 column densities over China for (a) 2005–2007, (b) 2008–2009, (c) 2010–2012 and (d) 2013–2015. The background regions are colored by grey. The locations of power plants are indicated by triangles.
(a) Spatial distribution of the peak year of NO2. The bar charts denote the average annual change rate of NO2 TVCDs for the period of 2010–2011, 2011–2012, 2012–2013, 2013–2014 and 2014–2015, respectively. (b) Spatial distribution of the year of SCR installations. The bar charts denote the temporal variations in average SCR penetration during 2011–2014. The bars on the top of the figure are the chart symbol of the legend. The value of 0.36/0.5 next to the bar chart relates to the attribute value that the longest bar in the chart represents.