Beijing air quality

A few years back, China’s city of Beijing was noted as having the highest air pollution levels of all cities in the world.

The air pollution was caused in part through the rather sudden and massive switch from bicycles as a form of transportation to automobiles and the increase of coal fired electricity generation.

The other significant contributing factor was the West – our demand for cheap Chinese products. The economic boom China is currently experiencing has come at a great cost from an environmental and human mortality standpoint. Air quality issues throughout China have been blamed for 400,000 premature deaths among a year.

After securing the Olympics for Beijing, China’s government has been working around the clock to try and improve air quality in the city. Pollution levels in years gone by have been so high that they could seriously impair athletes’ performance and spectators (not to mention the effect on their own people through continuous exposure).

It’s quite a difficult balancing act for the Chinese – they are opening themselves up somewhat to the rest of the world, they want to maintain economic growth, but they are also realizing that they are making exactly the same mistakes that other industrialized countries have made; and within a very compressed timeframe, further compounded by their massive population.

So how are they going with improving air quality? It does appear they have been making progress and have gone through 12 phases of air quality control since 1988.

In the next phase, Beijing officials state they will decrease sulfur dioxide emissions by 10 percent this year and will use other energy sources for over 1000 coal-fired boilers under 20 tons in the city area. In 2008, IV national emission standards for new vehicles will be enforced.

Over 2,500 aging buses and 5,000 taxis will also be taken off the roads according to the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau. Five coal-fired power plants will also have completed their cleanups, a major steel plant will cut down production and two chemical plants will cease production altogether.

Chinese environmental authorities have also discovered that the pollution affecting Beijing isn’t generated just in Beijing, but is blown in from surrounding cities; so that’s added extra challenges.

I’ve never been much of one for the Olympics, but for the first time in the history of the games (in my opinion), they’ll finally perhaps do something extraordinarily useful for the host city. Let’s hope that after the Olympic hoo-ha is over, Beijing authorities continue with the greening of their city.

You can monitor the daily air quality of Beijing and 83 other major cities in China here:

(Related Explanatory notes)

Learn more about Beijing’s air quality efforts and challenges.