Archive for October, 2009

translations from beijing’s 2008 state of the environment report

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

state of env report 1

Beijing’s annual State of the Environment Report was released in June of this year. Even though it came out a few months ago, I haven’t written about it yet, so I want to post the link here along with some comments and translations of key figures.

2008年北京市环境状况公报 (Chinese only)
Past reports available here:

About half of the 31-page report is devoted to air quality, with primary focus on the measures taken to control air quality during the Olympics and Paralympics. But first I’d like to show the annual data, which is presented in the standard forms of trends of annual average concentrations of pollutants (decreasing) and numbers of blue sky days (increasing):

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Overall, the short conclusion on annual air quality is given as follows:

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Annual Air Quality
In 2008, there were 274 days at or above Grade II air quality, 74.9% of the year. This was 89 more days and 24% higher than in 2001. Atmospheric concentrations of SO2, CO, NO2, and PM10 were 0.036, 1.4, 0.049, and0.122 mg/m3, respectively, representing reductions of 43.8%, 46.2%, 30.9%, and 26.1%, respectively, from 2001. Concentrations of SO2, CO, and NO2 met the national standard. PM10 concentration exceeded the national standard by 22%.

According to current government monitoring and standards, PM10 is the biggest pollutant of concern presently in Beijing. In January of this year, I estimated 2008 annual PM10 at 0.123 mg/m3 (close enough to the actual reported figured of 0.122), noting that this is over six times higher than the WHO’s recommended ideal annual PM10 standard of 0.020 mg/m3.

As for the Olympics and Paralympics, Beijing’s State of the Environment Report presents individual graphs for Air Pollution Index for both periods, as if to prove that Beijing met its commitment to keep the API below 101 throughout the Games:

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Related posts: final day of temporary air quality measures, end of the games.

Pollution concentration data are also shown, along with comparative reductions to 2007:

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These numbers all support widespread claims that pollution during the Games was reduced by around 50% from 2007. Conclusion:

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Olympic Period Air Quality
Beijing’s air quality met the standard every day during the Olympics and Paralympics. The atmospheric concentrations of main pollutants were reduced by about 50% from last year. Daily concentrations of SO2, CO, and NO2 met world standards for developed cities, and the daily concentration of PM10 met the WHO Stage 3 guidelines, meeting Beijing’s promises by far.

I’ll be investigating that last sentence in a separate post.

Top image source: Page 1 of the report. All figures and tables copied from Beijing’s 2008 State of the Environment Report and then translated.

new york times on beijing’s air quality

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

About two weeks ago, the New York Times published an excellent article on Beijing’s air quality. I feel honored that the online version of the article links to this blog, but that’s not the only reason I think it’s a great piece. The title of the article, “Beijing’s Air Is Cleaner, but Far From Clean,” is itself a succinct and accurate portrayal of the current state of the air here, and is a strong prelude to the article’s comprehensive, balanced view of both the successes and challenges faced by Beijing.

The article’s author, Michael Wines, portrays Beijing’s air quality situation from four different angles / contexts, all of which I think are important and valid for anyone wishing to understand the complexity of the air pollution issue. Here, I will describe and expand upon these four contexts.

1) Both the Beijing government and local researchers assert that air quality has steadily improved over the past decade. In other words, we’re making progress:

Through September, the government counted 221 days in which the 0-to-500 pollution index — the lower the number, the better — was below 101. It was the greatest number of “blue-sky days,” as the city calls them, since daily measurements were first published in 1998.

At the same time, the city has recorded only 2 days with dangerously high air pollution. That is the lowest number in a decade, and fully 17 days fewer than were logged in the same period in 2000.

“For those of us who have been monitoring air pollutants for about 10 years, we see a clear reduction in pollution,” Zhu Tong, a professor and air pollution scientist at Peking University’s College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, said in an interview.

2) Valid concerns exist over the accuracy and validity of the government data. In other words, be careful not to base all of your analysis on official statistics:

Outside experts caution that the city’s measurements are not just imprecise — they do not measure the tiniest particulates that are most damaging to lungs, for instance — but potentially misleading.

3) Although it appears that we are making progress, even the government’s official numbers show current air quality that is objectively still quite poor. In other words, we have a lot of work left to do:

And Beijing’s air remains far from pristine by any measure. The average concentration of particulates in city air during 2008, for example, was six times the ideal standard recommended by the World Health Organization. Indeed, Beijing has yet to meet the W.H.O.’s interim air standards for developing countries — or even the less stringent standards posted by China’s national government.

(Data supporting both of these claims may be found in these two posts from this blog: comparing international standards and summary of Beijing’s 2008 air quality.)

4) The improvements so far have been the result of impressive, massive, widespread programs and policies targeting air quality improvement; indeed such programs have been required for the government to have any chance in winning the “race” against the booming growth. In other words, although the government should be doing more, we recognize and applaud what they are already doing:

In the past decade, in fact, authorities have moved against air pollution problems with a tenacity that some environmentalists in developed nations, pitted against industry lobbyists and balky political machinery, can only envy.

The piece concludes by describing many such programs, including strict emission standards, fuel quality standards, introduction of alternative fuel buses, elimination of coal-fired burners, and more.

Rarely have I seen an article which succeeds at presenting all four perspectives. My general sense is that the Western media tends to focus largely on (2) and (3) (the data is suspect, air quality is still poor), whereas the Chinese media highlights (1) and (4) (we’re making progress, we have many successful programs in place). And yet, honest and comprehensive dialogue on solutions to Beijing’s air quality problem requires considering all four angles.

Lastly, my only objection to the article is the comparison of China’s scrappage program for high-emitting vehicles with the US’ Cash for Clunkers program. This is a little misleading, because the US program targets fuel economy while China’s program targets air pollutant emissions, but this is a subject for another post.

Disclosure: The author, Michael Wines, interviewed me for background information before writing the article.