China: Air Quality Standards


China’s Air Quality Standards not only include different timelines for certain metropolitan areas (in order to address areas where pollution is a more pressing issue) but also divides standards into classes: Class 1 applies to special regions (including national parks) and Class 2 applies to all other areas. Nationwide implementation of the current standard (see below) was completed in 2016.


Standard type
Ambient air quality standard
Current Standard

GB 3095-2012, phased-in 2012-2016


Ambient air quality has been regulated in China since 1982, when initial limits were set for TSP (Total Suspended Particulates), SO2, NO2, lead, and BaP (Benzo(a)pyrene). In 1996, the standard was both strengthened and expanded from 1982 levels under National Standard GB 3095-1996. In 2000, the standard was updated with less stringent limits for certain pollutants (MEP Announcement [2000] No. 1). In February 2012, China released a new ambient air quality standard, GB 3095-2012, which sets limits for the first time on PM2.5. The new standards took effect nationwide in 2016, but many cities and regions in China were required to implement the standards earlier than the national timeline, as follows:

  • 2012: Key cities including cities in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta, and Pearl River Delta regions, and provincial capitals
  • 2013: Key environmental protection cities
  • 2015: All prefecture-level cities
  • 2016: Nationwide implementation

In parallel with GB 3095-2012, a new Air Quality Index (AQI) definition was also released. The new AQI, which for the first time includes both PM2.5 and ozone, is specified in HJ 633-2012. It replaces the old Air Pollution Index, API. In September 2013, the State Council issued the “Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan,” which mandates 15-25% PM2.5 reductions in key cities and 10% PM10 reductions in all other cities by 2017 vs. a 2012 baseline.

Technical Standards

China’s current air quality standards include two classes of limit values. Class 1 standards apply to special regions such as national parks. Class 2 standards apply to all other areas, including urban and industrial areas. Earlier versions of the standard included a third class – special industrial areas – but this class was eliminated in the 2012 standard.

GB 3095-2012

The following table presents the current ambient air quality standards in China, as specified in GB 3095-2012. These standards were phased-in beginning in 2012 for some cities and by 2016 for all cities nationwide. Again, the Class 2 standards apply to urban areas.

Primary standards
Pollutant Averaging time Limit Unit
Class 1 Class 2
SO2 annual 20 60 µg/m3
24 hours 50 150
hourly 150 500
NO2 annual 40 40
24 hours 80 80
hourly 200 200
CO 24 hours 4 4 mg/m3
hourly 10 10
O3 daily, 8-hour maximum 100 160 µg/m3
hourly 160 200
PM10 annual 40 70
24 hours 50 150
PM2.5 annual 15 35
24 hours 35 75
Additional standards
Pollutant Averaging time Limit Unit
Class 1 Class 2
Total Suspended Particles (TSP) annual 80 200 µg/m3
24 hours 120 30
NOx annual 50 50
24 hours 100 100
hourly 250 250
Lead (Pb) annual 0.5 0.5
seasonal 1 1
Benzopyrene (BaP) annual 0.001 0.001
24 hours 0.0025 0.0025

Contact Us

Questions or updates about policies?