Archive for January, 2010

national energy commission announced

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Two days ago, China’s State Council announced the creation of the National Energy Commission (NEC). The Commission, led by Premier Wen Jiabao, includes Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and the ministers of 21 departments.

Debbi Seligsohn over at WRI has posted some good initial questions about the practical role of the new NEC. How will its authority and responsibility be balanced with those of the multiple other government institutions with some influence over energy and climate policy?

I am specifically interested in the institutional relationships of these multiple government and government-affiliated energy and climate change groups. As I was updating the Chinese Government Map for National Energy and Environmental Policy to include the NEC, I realized that China’s institutional structure for energy and climate change is now even more confusing.

According to the State Council, the National Energy Agency will undertake the specific work of the NEC (“国家能源委员会,具体工作由国家能源局承担“), while the NEA is managed by the NDRC (“国家能源局由国家发展和改革委员会管理“). Meanwhile, the NDRC maintains its own Energy Research Institute and Department of Climate Change, and undertakes the work of the National Leading Working Group on Addressing Climate Change, Energy Saving, and Emission Reduction (国家应对气候变化及节能减排工作领导小组,具体工作由国家发展和改革委员会承担“).

This is how I’ve mapped it. It’s circular and messy, but it’s all I can come up with. (Click on the image to go to the full map). Comments?

energy structure

endangered species spotted in beijing

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

I wonder how long this bus will last:


Taken 1/18/2010, 8:45am. (For the record, the API that day was 143 and rising).

Although I imagine most readers of this blog have followed the Western media developments on the Google issue, fewer may have seen the Chinese side. To appreciate the full glory of the Chinese government-backed media spin machine, surf on over to the Global Times English-language Google feature. Many of the articles are directly from Xinhua. Some highlights:

On 1/22, the Chinese media was still pushing the “China’s internet is open” argument:

China urged the United States to respect facts and stop unreasonable accusations on China in the name of so-called Internet freedom…

“The US side had criticized China’s policies on Internet administration, alluding that China restricts Internet freedom. We firmly oppose such words and deeds, which were against the facts and would harm the China-US relations,” Ma said.

The spokesman introduced Internet development in China, saying China’s Internet is open…

The Chinese constitution protects the citizens’ freedom of speech…

So let me get this straight: it is “against the facts” to say that China restricts internet freedom?

Apparently, by 1/25, the Chinese government had determined that this was the wrong messaging strategy, because they have now shifted to “China’s internet regulation is ok because it is in accordance with both our own laws and international precedent”:

China says Internet regulation legitimate, reasonable

China’s regulation on the Internet industry is in line with the laws and should be free from unjustifiable interferences, a Chinese government official said Sunday in Beijing.

A spokesperson with China’s State Council Information Office told Xinhua in an exclusive interview, that China is regulating the Internet legally to build a more reliable, helpful information network that is beneficial to economic and social development…

Online information which incites subversion of state power, violence and terrorism or includes pornographic contents are explicitly prohibited in the laws and regulations, the spokesperson said…

This has nothing to do with the claims of “restrictions on Internet freedom”, the spokesperson stressed.

China’s regulation on the Internet industry is proved to be suitable for China’s national conditions and in line with common practices in most countries as well, the spokesperson said…

Chinese netizens’ right to express opinions within the law is well protected, and their opinions are given full consideration by the government in policy making process, the spokesperson said.

I see. So the government is restricting the internet, but somehow it has “nothing to do with internet freedom.” Forgive me for being confused. Thankfully, apparently my netizen right to express my opinion is still protected. Unless I want to do so on Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Blogspot, Google Documents, Picasa, Flickr, etc.

updated blogroll – china faqs and myhealthbeijing

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

The beginning of the year is always a good time to reset and renew, and I’ve started by reviewing my blogroll. I’ve now made two China Environment Blog sections; one for current (e.g. updated in the last six months), and one for older blogs that aren’t being updated regularly but still have valuable information archived. I hope this helps readers more efficiently identify good sources of new analysis.

Two notable additions to the blogroll:

ChinaFAQs, a new web project from the World Resources Institute featuring excellent information and commentary;

MyHealthBeijing, a blog written by Beijing-based family doctor Richard Saint Cyr, who frequently writes about air pollution. His posts contain both excellent commentary as well as links to scientific research, especially on health impacts. Last October, he posted this terrific presentation he gave with an overview of air pollution in Beijing and what the health risks are:

beijing’s 2010 blue sky day target announced as 266

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

A China Daily report today mentions Beijing’s 2010 Blue Sky Day target as 266. This is the first time I’ve seen the target referenced; I’m not sure how/when they set or publicize them. Perhaps they are in Beijing’s Five Year Plan. Does anyone know?

This China Daily report also mentions Beijing’s 2009 Blue Sky Day total, 285, representing the first time I’ve seen it mentioned in English-language domestic media (although Xinhua covered the accomplishment in Chinese on 1/1.)

Recent targets and totals are shown below. Note that the 2010 target is below the number of Blue Sky Days achieved in both 2008 and 2009.

blue sky day targets and totals

why number of blue sky days is a terrible metric

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

In my post summarizing Beijing’s 2009 air quality, I noted that although the number of Blue Sky Days increased from 2008 to 2009, there was a very minimal reduction in annual average particulate matter concentration (the reduction has now been confirmed by the Beijing EPB to be just 0.8%). I then called the “number of Blue Sky Days” metric scientifically meaningless.

Here is a simple example showing clearly how and why the use of number of Blue Sky Days can distort the reality of air quality:

Suppose you take two sets of two days, and you wish to evaluate which period had better air quality. Here are the data you have:

Day 1 and Day 2: API* is 100 on both days.
Day 3: API is 101.
Day 4: API is 1.

Over the period Day 1-2, we have an average API of 100, and a total of 2 Blue Sky Days.
Over the period Day 3-4, we have an average API of 51, and a total of 1 Blue Sky Day.

If you are judging air quality by “number of Blue Sky Days,” you would conclude that the air quality was better on Days 1-2. On the other hand, if you are judging air quality by average concentration of pollutants people are exposed to, you would judge that Days 3-4 were much better. Actually, because the normalization from pollutant concentration to API is non-linear, in this example, the average pollution level of Days 1-2 could be up to three times higher than the pollution on Days 3-4, and yet this period is judged as being better, because it has more Blue Sky Days.

This is what I mean by a scientifically meaningless metric.

*Reminder: API (air pollution index) is a 0-500 normalized measure of the pollution people are exposed to; a Blue Sky Days is a day with API of 100 or below.

beijing epb’s news brief on 2009 air quality

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau has posted a news brief titled “2009年我市达标天数比去年多11 天实现空气质量11年持续改善” (“The number of days meeting the standard in our city in 2009 was 11 more than last year, realizing 11 consecutive years of continuous air quality improvement”).

Here are some rough and quick translations of some key parts:


“This year, the number of days at Grade II or better reached 285, 78.1% of the year, which is 11 more days than last year. The total is 25 days more than the municipal government’s goal of 260 days. We have realized 11 years of continuous air quality improvement.”



“There are three key characteristics to this year’s air quality improvement:

First, we reached the annual goal early. This year’s air quality improvement goal was met 41 days early, the earliest we have met the annual goal since 1999.”

二是达标天数明显增多,四级以上中重度污染天数明显减少。今年二级和好于二级天数285天,比2000年以来同期平均高16.8个百分点,四级以上天数 5天,是十年来同期中重度污染天数最少的一年,比2000年同期减少18天。

“Second, the number of days meeting the standard has increased obviously, while the number of days of Grade IV or worse (moderate/heavy pollution) has decreased obviously. This year the number of days at Grade II or better was 285, an improvement over 2000 of 16.8 percentage points. There were only five days of Grade IV or worse, the lowest of any year of the past 10, and 18 less than the year 2000.”


“Third, the concentration of major pollutants has decreased obviously; SO2 and inhalable particles etc. are the lowest in 11 years. According to initial analysis, the concentration of the source complex of inhalable particles fell over the last 11 years to 120 ug/m^3, a reduction of about 0.8% below the Olympic year last year. SO2, which has a close relationship to burning of coal, has continued to drop even after meeting the national standard, dropping 5.6% from last year. Both of which are the lowest in 11 years, reduced from 2000 by 52.1% and 25.3%, respectively.”


“Reflecting on 2009, our city’s air quality on the whole was relatively good…”

The note continues by describing the policies that have been implemented to improve air quality, including implementing the Outlook on Scientific Development, adjusting industrial structure, scrapping yellow-label vehicles, vigorously controlling dust, increasing use of natural gas instead of coal, etc., plus increased general public support and participation.

It concludes:


“Although our city met its 2009 air quality goal early, there is still a gap between the current air quality and the requirements of the national standard, the public’s hope, and building an international city. From today on, Beijing will continue to follow and implement the Outlook on Scientific Development, and, in accordance with the requirements of building a “Cultural Beijing, Scientific  Beijing, Green Beijing,” will carry on the precious Olympic environmental wealth. We will increase work efforts to prevent and control air pollution, continue promoting improvements in air quality, strengthen water pollution treatment, control noise pollution, and comprehensively promote all types of environmental protection work and raise the capital’s eco-environmental quality to a new level.”


I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of person, but celebrating a 0.8% decrease in particulate pollution when you are still 20% above your own national standard? Seriously? And calling your air quality “relatively good on the whole” (“我市空气质量总体上较好”)? While it may be true that the air quality is good relative to 2000, a claim like that is pretty disingenuous, given that Beijing’s air quality is still terrible by international standards. The SO2 drop is encouraging news, as is the decrease in Grade IV+ days, but what about the conspicuously missing third pollutant that’s reported daily, NO2? I guess we’ll have to wait until the mid-year environmental report for that. In the meantime, at least it’s nice to see the acknowledgment (at the end) that Beijing’s air quality still isn’t meeting the national standard – seems this information is usually left out of these announcements.

Related: Summary of Beijing’s 2009 Air Quality