Beijing’s air quality has dramatically improved

The following is an extract from New Statesman:

Beijing is now preparing to host the winter games in February 2022. Since 2008 Olympics the Chinese economy has more than tripled in size and annual coal consumption has increased, yet air quality in Beijing continues to improve. 

Data from the city’s environment bureau shows that between 2013 and 2021 average levels of larger particulates, PM2.5 and PM10, fell by 63.1 per cent and 49.1 per cent respectively. These pollutants come from vehicle emissions and cooking smoke, settle in the respiratory system, and can contribute to coughs, asthma attacks and high blood pressure. Meanwhile, levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, which come from the burning of oil and coal, and can cause smog and acid rain, dropped by 53.6 per cent and 88.7 per cent respectively. 

Last year was the first on record that Beijing met China’s national air pollution standards. “The strength of pollution prevention and control is unprecedented, the effect of science and technology in pollution control is unprecedented” said the city authorities. Their data is backed up by measurements recorded at the US embassy. 

Part of the reason for this success is that factories have been moved out of the city, while car number plate “alternate odd and even” day restrictions remain in place. Other trends that come with economic development have also made a difference: in 2005 61 per cent of Chinese homes cooked using coal or wood, which both produce significant levels of particulate matter pollution. This figure had dropped to 32 per cent in 2017, with electricity and cleaner-burning natural gas gaining more of a foothold.

Conclusion [by CEN]

While Beijing may have met national standards, on some estimates at least a third of China’s major cities still do not and air pollution remains a significant problem. As China moves rapidly forward towards its goals for decarbonizationof energy production, we can expect further improvements in urban air quality (particulates and other pollutants) along with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, while the once major industrialised countries (e.g. US, Germany, Japan) have systematically ‘out-sourced” huge portions of their heavy industry to China and ASEAN countries in the past 3 decades, they have also ‘exported’ their air pollution to Asia, allowing the West to simultaneously enjoy relatively clean air while maintaining excessive resource consumption and reducing domestic energy intensity.

SOURCE: Extracts from New Statesman, ‘How Beijing took control of air pollution’,19 January 2022.

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