Happy New Year! For each of the past two years around this time (link to 2008, link to 2009), I’ve posted a summary of the previous year’s air quality in Beijing. This post contains some data and notes on 2010.
My data source, as always, is the datacenter of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which archives historical Beijing air quality data here. (Note that I’m using the daily averages, not the recently released hourly data.) All I’m doing is copying the data into Excel, then parsing it and doing some conversions to look for patterns. The most important conversion is converting Air Pollution Index (API) to ambient particulate matter (PM) concentration, using the equations described here. This is important for two reasons. First, the conversion allows for averaging, which should not be done with API data directly. Second, ambient PM concentration is a much better indicator of the health impact of air pollution in Beijing, allowing for direct comparison to international air quality standards and existing health effect studies.
Now on to the data. The datacenter reports 363 data points for 2010 (3/15 and 5/21 are missing). Assuming those two days were Blue Sky Days yields a Blue Sky Day count of 286 and a calculated average PM10 concentration of 122 ug/m3. The Blue Sky Day count of 286 has been confirmed by the Beijing EPB, but the PM10 concentration value probably won’t be released for another few months.
As a reminder, Blue Sky Days are days for which the API is at or below 100, which China deems “excellent” or “good” air quality. Cities count the annual number of Blue Sky Days as an easily-understood measure of air quality progress, although the metric has been gamed in the past and is actually scientifically meaningless.
This figure shows trends of Beijing’s Blue Sky Days and PM10 concentration since 2000:
The Bad News: Beijing’s air pollution levels, as represented by ambient particulate matter concentration, have remained flat for the past three years, actually getting slightly worse from 2009 to 2010. This is consistent with results reported in mid-2010. Beijing’s air quality still does not meet China’s own air quality standard, and is six times worse than the recommended particulate matter target set by the WHO.
The Good News: Beijing’s 286 Blue Sky Days in 2010 far exceeded its target (266), and miraculously managed to beat last year’s total by just one day. In addition, there was a slight increase in the number of Grade I (“excellent”) air quality days as compared with 2009 (as shown in the above graph in light blue). This is dramatic turn-around from the way things looked in the first half of the year. Given that over 700,000 vehicles were sold in Beijing in 2010, I suppose the fact that the pollution didn’t get even worse can be viewed in some respects as a success.
Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau really struggled to call 2010 a success. On December 31st, they released a short note stating, “今年我市空气质量二级和好于二级的天数累计达到286天，占78.4%，比去年多1天，实现了空气质量连续12年持续改善,” meaning, “This year, the number of days in our city meeting the Grade II or better air quality standard totaled 286, representing 78.4% of all days, one more than last year. This has realized 12 consecutive years of air quality improvement.” The last statement is highly dubious, especially given my preliminary conclusion that the average PM10 concentration was higher in 2010 than 2009. It will be interesting to see how and if the EPB’s statements change when the PM numbers are released in the environmental annual report later this year.