Urbanization-induced population migration has reduced ambient PM2.5 concentrations in China. Academic Article uri icon


  • Direct residential and transportation energy consumption (RTC) contributes significantly to ambient fine particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 2.5 m (PM2.5) in China. During massive rural-urban migration, population and pollutant emissions from RTC have evolved in terms of magnitude and geographic distribution, which was thought to worsen PM2.5 levels in cities but has not been quantitatively addressed. We quantify the temporal trends and spatial patterns of migration to cities and evaluate their associated pollutant emissions from RTC and subsequent health impact from 1980 to 2030. We show that, despite increased urban RTC emissions due to migration, the net effect of migration in China has been a reduction of PM2.5 exposure, primarily because of an unequal distribution of RTC energy mixes between urban and rural areas. After migration, people have switched to cleaner fuel types, which considerably lessened regional emissions. Consequently, the national average PM2.5 exposure concentration in 2010 was reduced by 3.9 g/m3 (90% confidence interval, 3.0 to 5.4 g/m3) due to migration, corresponding to an annual reduction of 36,000 (19,000 to 47,000) premature deaths. This reduction was the result of an increase in deaths by 142,000 (78,000 to 181,000) due to migrants swarming into cities and decreases in deaths by 148,000 (76,000 to 194,000) and 29,000 (15,000 to 39,000) due to transitions to a cleaner energy mix and lower urban population densities, respectively. Locally, however, megacities such as Beijing and Shanghai experienced increases in PM2.5 exposure associated with migration because these cities received massive immigration, which has driven a large increase in local emissions.

published proceedings

  • Sci Adv

author list (cited authors)

  • Shen, H., Tao, S., Chen, Y., Ciais, P., Gneralp, B., Ru, M., ... Zhao, S.

publication date

  • January 1, 2017 11:11 AM