By Muyu Xu and Elias Glenn
Beijing may have turned a corner in its battle against the city’s notorious smog, according to Reuters calculations, and environmental consultants say the Chinese government deserves much of the credit for introducing tough anti-pollution measures
The Chinese capital is set to record its biggest improvement in air quality in at least nine years, with a nearly 20 percent change for the better this year, based on average concentration levels of hazardous breathable particles known as PM2.5.
The dramatic change, which has occurred across North China, is partly because of favourable weather conditions in the past three months but it also shows that the government’s strong-arm tactics have had an impact.
The Reuters’ estimates show that average levels of the pollutants in the capital have fallen by about 35 percent from 2012 numbers, with nearly half the improvement this year.
“The improvement in air quality is due both to long-term efforts by the government and short-term efforts this winter,” said Anders Hove, a Beijing-based energy consultant. “After 2013, the air in summers got much cleaner, but winter had not shown much improvement. This year is the first winter improvement we’ve seen during this war on pollution.”
Government officials this week signalled they were confident they were starting to get on top of the problem.
“The autumn and winter period is the most challenging part of the air pollution campaign. However, with the intensive efforts all departments have made, we believe the challenge is being successfully overcome,” Liu Youbin, spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection, told reporters on Thursday.
STILL A LONG WAY TO GO
But environmental experts say that while they are optimistic, it may be too early to celebrate.
“The turning point is here but we cannot rule out the possibility we can turn back,” said Ranping Song, developing country climate action manager for the World Resources Institute. “We need to be cautious about challenges and not relax now that there have been improvements. There are lots of issues to be solved.”
And while China has scored an initial victory over smog, it still has to reverse public opinion outside China on its air quality.
New York-based travel guidebook publisher Fodor’s advised tourists in mid-November in its ‘No List” for 2018 to shun Beijing until the city’s anti-pollution campaign had reduced the “overwhelming smog”. Fodor’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Beijing there is certainly plenty of room for further progress as average air quality is still significantly worse than the World Health Organization‘s recommendations.
And the region still sees bouts of heavy smog. On Friday afternoon the U.S. embassy‘s website said Beijing’s air was “very unhealthy” and the city issued a pollution alert on Thursday.
The Reuters calculations showing the improvement were based on average hourly readings of PM2.5 concentrations at the United States Embassy in Beijing from April 8, 2008 to Dec. 28, 2017.
The data was compiled from figures from the U.S. embassy‘s air monitoring website, as well as data provided by AirVisual, a Beijing company that analyses air quality data.
The data from the embassy, though not fully verified or validated, is the only set available for PM2.5 levels in the capital over that time period. AirVisual provided the hour-by-hour air pollution data from the embassy for recent months.
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