Archive for the ‘olympics’ Category

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):

state of env report 2

state of env report 3

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

state of env report 9


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:

state of env report 6

state of env report 7

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:

state of env report 4

state of env report 5

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

state of env report 8


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.

api data anomaly during olympics

Friday, September 18th, 2009

While preparing some analysis comparing this summer with last, I discovered something strange. The Ministry of Environmental Protection’s datacenter now lists two Air Pollution Index values for 8/16/08:

8 16 08
This is very unusual for several reasons:

1) There should only be one API value for each day. Although I have occasionally noticed data points missing, I’ve never seen two different data points for the same day.

2) This double data point did not appear until months after the Olympics were over. I know this both because I was tracking the Olympic air quality data on a day-by-day basis last August, and also because I downloaded datasets earlier this year that did not include the double point.

3) There is a rather large discrepancy between the existing, reported 8/16/08 API, 23, and the new, second data point for the same day, 84. Given that 8/16/08 was right in the middle of the Olympics, if the second data point is indeed correct, it has implications for the overall air quality assessment of the Games.

My guess and hope is that it’s just some strange glitch in the data reporting system. I’ll continue to monitor it to see if anything changes.

olympic pollution reductions confirmed by NASA satellite

Friday, January 16th, 2009

A new study from NASA analyzed satellite measurements of air pollution over Beijing to conclude:

The [Olympic] emission restrictions had an unmistakable impact. During the two months when restrictions were in place, the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) — a noxious gas resulting from fossil fuel combustion (primarily in cars, trucks, and power plants) — plunged nearly 50 percent. Likewise, levels of carbon monoxide (CO) fell about 20 percent.

The following images show comparative NO2 levels around China during August, 2005-2007 (left) and August, 2008 (right). Note the disappearance of the color red over Beijing in the image on the right.

nasa olympic pollution

Much of the air quality discussion on this blog and elsewhere has been about particulate pollution, not NO2 or CO, so it’s nice to see the expanded analysis.

Monitoring of air pollution by satellite is just awesome. Last November, I heard a fascinating presentation by Argonne National Lab’s Dr. David Streets on recent developments in satellite monitoring. It is getting so exact, he said, that, “we are exploring the potential of monitoring the change of power plant emissions in China from space.” He then showed an example of pinpointing the opening of new power plants in Inner Mongolia through satellite observation:

streets RAQM slide

Note pixel size of ~12km. Incredible.

Related post: final day of temporary air quality measures

final day of temporary air quality measures

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Prior to the Games, a major question asked on this blog and elsewhere was, “Will Beijing’s efforts to control the air quality work?” (Some analysts even boldly predicted that they wouldn’t.) And now, here we are, on September 20th, 2008 – the final day of the temporary environmental policies implemented by the Beijing government to control air quality during the Olympic and Paralympic period – with a resounding “yes” answer to that question.

Through the banning of over half the cars on the roads, the temporary closing of factories, the shutting down of construction in the city, and a little luck from the weather (on second thought, not luck), Beijing managed over the past two months to reduce air pollution by around 50% (analysis at the bottom of this post) and yield the cleanest air the city has seen in ten years.

Let’s look one last time at the graph of daily Air Pollution Index during the Olympic period:

api 7 20  to 9 20

And some averages:

Average API, Two-month Olympic period, 7/20/08 – 9/20/08: 62
Average API, Olympics, 8/8/08 – 8/24/08: 49
Average API, Paralympics, 9/6/08 – 9/17/08: 59

According to my analysis, these numbers are comparable to the air quality during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (in that previous post, I estimated that the air quality during the Los Angeles Olympics would have rated as a Chinese API of 59).

To get a better sense of just how much better Beijing’s air actually was from 7/20 – 9/20 of this year, it makes sense to convert the numbers from API back into particulate matter concentration (explanation at bottom of this post), and compare those numbers against some past data.

The following table shows average API and PM10 concentrations for some selected time periods over the past three years (2006 and 2007 PM10 data from Beijing EPB environmental annual reports):

Update 10/20/08: Found a minor mistake in the first version of the PM10 data I showed below; fixed now.

olympic api pm10 compare

From this data, we can calculate that, according to PM10 concentrations, Beijing’s air during the two-month Olympic period was:

— 44% less polluted than the first half of 2008;
— 40% less polluted than the same period in 2007;
— 47% less polluted than all of 2007;
— 51% less polluted than all of 2006.

These numbers are comparable to the Beijing EPB’s statement that concentrations of major pollutants were cut by 45% during the month of August.

Lastly, for a different perspective on the impact of the temporary air quality control policies, I wanted to show API data over a much longer time period. The following graph shows daily API readings from the beginning of 2006 to today:

api 2006  to 9 20

I find this graph fascinating (granted, I’m an engineer). Two key observations jump out at me: first, the average API during the Olympic period is clearly lower than any previous periods of comparable length. Second, perhaps more interestingly, the extreme variability has been reduced tremendously; specifically, Beijing succeeded in prevented any severe spikes in air pollution that were so common in previous periods.

Which, of course, leaves me wondering: how long before we see another one of those dreaded spikes?

paralympics air quality update – 9/6 API missing

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

The last time I presented daily API data was on August 24th, the final day of the Olympics. With the Paralympics now underway, I figure it’s time to take another detailed look at the air quality status.

Since 7/20, the day the odd/even car ban and other temporary air quality control policies went into effect, the graph of daily API values is as follows:

api 7 20  to 9 20

A couple of things worth noting:

1) Though the API was below the target cut-off of 100 for the entire Olympic period, between the Olympics and Paralympics we saw one day, 8/29, in which the API shot up to 110.

2) The API data for 9/6 is conspicuously missing. (As always, my source for API data is the query at the bottom of MEP’s air quality page.) Does anyone out there have this data point, perhaps from the Beijing EPB? I seem to remember that day – the day of the Paralympic opening ceremony – being particularly hazy, but I didn’t check the data then. Missing data is always concerning, of course, but especially here.

Still, though, the results for overall air quality since 7/20 are remarkable. The average API from 7/20-9/9 of this year is 63; during the same period last year the average was 89.

Lastly, the weather has seemed quite strange recently here in Beijing; over the last few days I’ve seen two of the heaviest thunderstorms I can remember in China. Anyone agree?

paralympics underway!

Monday, September 8th, 2008


Last Saturday night, the Paralympics began here in Beijing with a gorgeous and moving opening ceremony. Apparently you can watch it online here, though I can’t seem to get the site to work from within China.

One of the most powerful moments of the ceremony was the lighting of the torch (which, by the way, it’s nice to see blazing again!). Three-time high jump gold medalist Hou Bin hoisted himself, his wheelchair, and the torch by pulley from the floor of the stadium all the way up to the base of the cauldron.

hou bin

It took him over three minutes to reach the top, and you could clearly see the strain on his face as he struggled to continue, even pausing occasionally to rest. It was an incredibly powerful symbol both of the struggle faced by so many people with disabilities as well as the ability to succeed and overcome those struggles through perseverance.

Here’s the video on YouTube:

Photo credits: 1) Reuters/David Gray via NYT; 2) Xinhua.

what will happen on september 21st?

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

In my last post, I described how international media and conversation about Beijing’s air largely went silent starting around the second week of the Olympics. However, local conversation here in Beijing has been anything but quiet. If anything, just as foreigners began to lose interest in the seeming non-story of Beijing’s lack of air pollution, the local buzz about the improved air quality was just starting to gain momentum.

First, a little background: in August, 2008, Beijing had the cleanest air in 10 years, with the “density of major pollutants cut by 45%” during the month. The data is in and the results (and the air) are clear – the temporary measures to reduce air pollution in Beijing worked.

I remember when the temporary measures were announced back in June, I had mixed reactions. While on the one hand I was personally excited for two months of breathing clean air and riding my bike on gridlock-free streets, as an environmental professional I was disappointed that such temporary policies were needed in the first place. Clearly, the preferred solution would have been the implementation of stringent, permanent air pollution control policies that would have ensured sustainable, Olympics-approved air quality without the need for stop-gap measures. As I contemplated the potential results of the temporary policies, I asked many of my friends and colleagues what they thought would happen on September 21st (the first day after the temporary bans end). At that time (late June), virtually everyone’s unanimous response was that Beijing would simply revert back to the same old smog that we had all become used to. In other words, most people I asked thought there would be no long term impacts of the temporary policies.

But I think those of us who have lived in non-polluted cities (please allow me to use the phrase “seen the light,” meaning lived in a place where you can’t look directly at the sun without burning your eyes, as you often can in Beijing) always held out one great hope: that Beijing’s residents and politicians would be inspired; that they would experience life with crystal clear blue skies every day and wouldn’t want to go back.

And over the past week or two in Beijing, the most amazing thing has happened: it seems that hope is being fulfilled. Media articles, blog posts, and chat forum polls are filled with discussion on how to keep the air quality this good, with much specific debate on whether or not the odd/even car ban should be made permanent. I’m happy – ecstatic – that these discussions are happening, and that the citizens of Beijing are taking direct interest in and action on air quality. I am even more ecstatic that, so far, the government is open to the opinions and suggestions of the people.

Regarding the permanence of the odd/even car ban, I think it is natural and expected that this should be the focus of the discussion, as this is the single temporary policy that has affected individual citizens the most. However, while I hate to inject any negativity into what I consider to be a wonderful development of citizen environmental activism in China, I feel I must point out that a permanent odd/even car ban may not be the best long term strategy to maintain the air quality we saw over the month of August. For one thing, it is unclear right now how much the air quality improvement can be attributed to the vehicle reduction (as opposed to the factory closures and construction halting). For another thing, as was pointed out on Time’s China blog, such a policy could end up having the opposite desired effect, depending on the resulting purchase and use of second cars.

To summarize: hurray for the people in Beijing for demanding that this air quality continue, for the Chinese media for publishing their demands, and for the Chinese government for listening. But let’s make sure this energy and drive are directed in the right directions. And what are those right directions? Well, Alex Pasternack has a great start up on Treehugger: 10 Ways Beijing (and Other Cities) Can Keep Its Skies Blue and Road Gridlock-Free.

olympics round-up: impressions of air quality

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Photo by Lila Buckley

In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, Beijing’s air quality was constantly in the news; questions about whether Beijing would meet its air quality targets, whether events would need to be postponed, and whether the pollution would affect athletes’ performances seemed to be the constant refrain of Western conversations about the upcoming Games. In early July, the New York Times cited air quality as one of two primary remaining uncertainties about the preparations.

As the Games approached, these concerns seemed to be entirely validated. Two weeks prior to the Games, Beijing’s air pollution exceeded the Olympic standard for four straight days; even the last few days before the opening ceremony were dangerously close to the limit.

Over the first few days of the Games, though, as the API bounced up and down, we began to see mixed reviews about the quality and the impacts. At that time, I predicted a stalemate, imagining that the end result would be the Chinese claiming success with regard to air quality and foreigners grudging that it still wasn’t good enough. (Interesting side note here: as I have indicated, the average API during the Olympics was 49; before the Games started, beijingairblog specifically quoted an expert stating that an API of 50 was still “very unhealthy,” claiming that only an average API of 25 would be “acceptable for Olympic competition.”)

But then, by the second week of the Olympics, a funny – and unexpected – thing happened. The stalemate I predicted never really happened, because Beijing’s air quality critics backed down. By August 13th, the New York Times called it “the great air pollution scare,” dubbing it “the Y2K computer scare — a nonevent.” On the 18th, danwei titled a blog post “Pollution wussies go quiet.” Later, DH commented on my blog:

Yo Vance, Gotta tell you that after the start of the games I heard almost NOTHING about air quality from any of the major news sources. Seems like maybe they just decided it wasn’t a story anymore. Plus none of the athletes wore those Batman-style gasmasks so there may have been no real “story” to cover…

By the end of the Games, air pollution was a non-issue, eclipsed by so many other stories of the Olympics. Air quality, which seemed so dominant a concern before the Games happened, was barely even mentioned in many of the summary write-ups of the Games that appeared shortly after the closing ceremony. (For example here, here, here, and here.)

However, while Beijing’s air quality may no longer be making many headlines abroad, the exact opposite is true here in China. But this is a topic for a separate post…

end of the games

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

First of all, apologies for the lack of posting this week; I’ve been busy watching as many events as I can while simultaneously struggling through a wicked cold. With the end of the Games finally upon us, though, I thought I’d fire off some quick numbers on how Beijing did:

First of all, Beijing met its goal of keeping the API below 100 during the Games. Here is the data for the 17 days 8/8/08-8/24/08:

api 8 8  to 8 24

Second, it seems the temporary policies (+ regular rains throughout the Games) worked; let’s take a look at some average numbers for comparison:

Average Beijing API during the Olympics, 8/8/08-8/24/08: 49
Average Beijing API since the car ban went into effect, 7/20/08-8/24/08: 64
2007 Yearly Average Beijing API: 101
Average Beijing API during Olympic period 2007, 8/8/07-8/24/07: 86
Average Beijing API during Olympic period 2006, 8/8/06-8/24/06: 76

The average API in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics was 43% lower than the average API in Beijing during the same period in 2007. I’d say that’s a pretty dramatic improvement.

More analysis to come.

beautiful in beijing

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

tiantan 8 15

Yesterday was one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever seen in Beijing. And the data supports it: the API of 17 yesterday is tied for the lowest on record (going back to June, 2000). Here’s the data since the car ban started on 7/20:

api 7 20  to 8 15

As of 8/13, the New York Times was already quoting athletes calling Beijing’s pollution concerns “massive hype,” and proposing, “it may seem that the great air pollution scare is becoming the equivalent of the Y2K computer scare — a nonevent.”

While I appreciate the optimism, I’m not quite willing to go that far at this point; I am still tracking the data carefully and will reserve any sweeping “success” judgments until the end of the Games.

Still, though, I suppose if Beijing can survive the opening ceremony with an API of 94 and the two long distance cycling events at 78 and 82, then the odds are pretty good that we aren’t going to see any other dramatically different impressions of the air quality than what we have seen already.