ADB Supports Air Quality Improvement and First Clean Air Bonds in PRC

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a loan of $150 million for clean energy financing in the greater Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei (BTH) and Yangtze River Delta (YRD) regions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the latest part of a multiyear program to improve air quality.

“ADB has successfully carried out a series of programs to clean up the air in the greater BTH region over the last 5 years leading to tangible improvements in air quality. But challenges remain,” said ADB Principal Portfolio Management Specialist Shigeru Yamamura. “The project will focus on promoting cutting-edge technologies in transport, renewable energy, industrial energy efficiency, and cooling systems to further this process of containing air quality deterioration in greater BTH and YRD, which is the largest economic cluster in the PRC.”

The project is the sixth loan under the air quality improvement program for the PRC’s capital region that began in 2015 with a first policy-based loan in the PRC focusing on policy reforms and strengthening regulatory capacity to improve air quality in Hebei Province. Subsequent loans established a green financing platform (GFP) to develop air pollution reduction projects, supported adoption of high-level technologies, and a switch from coal to natural gas and biogas.

Through PRC government actions to accelerate air pollution reduction coupled with ADB’s lending support, the annual average concentration of particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) in the BTH region decreased by 27% between 2015 and 2019 to 47.9 μg/m3 in 2019. However, this is still short of World Health Organization standards of 35.0 μg/m3. Increase in both ground-level ozone (O3), a major source of smog, and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), are other emerging challenges that require a wider area-based approach to reduce air pollutant and GHG emissions in the greater BTH and YRD regions. In addition, air pollutants and GHG emissions have started bouncing back after the COVID-19 lockdown, requiring immediate action.

The project will support Clean Air Bonds (CABs) meeting international standards to catalyze domestic financing for sustainable clean energy investments, develop a financial technology-powered lending platform and enhance financial access for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and women.

It uses the GFP that was established earlier with ADB’s assistance for seamless and timely clean energy investment in the two regions. The GFP received global finance innovation awards by the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit and in 2020 won the International Finance Forum’s Global Green Finance Innovation Award.

The project will develop artificial intelligence technology with machine learning-powered lending platform for clean energy investments in MSMEs, which account for about 60% of GDP and 80% of urban employment, but also 70% of air and water pollution.

“Reducing PM2.5, ground-level O3, and HFC emissions require sustainable financing for clean energy investments in the long run,” said Project Administration Head of ADB’s East Asia Sustainable Infrastructure Division Lei Zhang. “The credit enhancement scheme in the project will catalyze funds from the domestic debt market by supporting developers to issue internationally aligned CABs which would be the first air quality improvement dedicated green bond in the PRC.”

As well as comprehensively address emerging challenges, the project is expected to generate valuable experience, knowledge, and the lessons learned for other ADB’s developing member countries facing similar challenges of air pollution and GHG emissions reduction.

The total cost of the project is $650.78 million, of which $500.78 million will be provided by subborrowers, domestic commercial banks, and the China National Investment and Guaranty Corporation. The project is due for completion at the end of March 2026.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.