Beijing's air quality fell short of national standards on 179 days last year. That's one reason why the world's biggest coal consumer is likely to stick with its plan to clean up its energy supply — regardless of what President-elect Donald Trump does in the U.S.

"At the current stage of China's economic growth, the industries and the models that the nation has developed all face constraints related to the environment and resources," said Xuan Xiaowei, a senior research fellow at a government think tank called the Development Research Center of the State Council. "Environmental pollution is so serious. Can it work without green development?"

By any account, China must curb environmental pollution to keep its public happy. About 80 percent of the 338 Chinese cities regularly monitored by the environment ministry failed to meet official standards last year, the ministry says. Resentment about worsening pollution has created cottage industries of everything from smartphone applications to low-cost monitoring devices to keep track of air quality.