Working Paper

Low-emission zones and zero-emission construction equipment in China: An untapped policy opportunity

China’s market for construction equipment has grown strongly over the past two decades, accompanied by a growth in emissions. Total PM emissions were about 77,000 tons in 2020, which was higher than that of motor vehicles (~68,000 tons) as presented in the figure. NOx emissions reached almost 1.5 million tons. Excavators and loaders are the top two equipment polluters, generating about 80% of the PM and NOx emissions contributed by all construction equipment despite having a sales share of only 30%.

Cities in China have been under pressure to improve local air quality since China released its ambient air quality standard in 2012. Enabled by the Clean Air Law, cities have set off-road low-emission zones to restrict the use of high-emitting construction equipment. This paper reviews strategies for establishing low-emission construction zones in China and provides an overview of the current market for zero-emission construction equipment. It identifies regions where early adoption can be feasible based on a review of local policy measures in promoting clean, new energy off-road equipment.

Graphic showing cities with multiple rules for regulating low-emission zones for construction equipment

Figure. Cities with multiple rules for regulating and implementing low-emission zones

The paper proposes a set of recommendations regarding investments in zero-emission construction zones and the promotion of zero-emission construction equipment.

  • Establish the legal foundation for zero-emission zones so that ministries and local governments are empowered to establish the zones and to penalize non-compliance
  • Establish a multi-agency collaboration platform and data sharing system to encourage collaboration among key stakeholders and to provide real-time data on emissions and equipment use in the zones
  • Increase the emissions stringency of the zones in step with incentives, aiming towards zero-emissions
  • Prioritize key regions, equipment types, and applications that are ripe for early implementation
Zero-emission vehicles