Sunday, November 9, 2014

What does it take to clear up Beijing's pollution?

The APEC summit currently taking place in Beijing has provided Beijingers with a week of unusually low pollution and blue skies, due to the exceptional measures which have been taken to ensure that the city would not be blanketed by smog during the summit.

The aforementioned measures have included a five day holiday for all educational institutions and public offices in the city, a suspension of work in all factories and building sites, and only allowing cars to take the road if their number plates end with either odd or even numbers, depending on the day. 
This last measure has been extended to a huge area of Northern China, all the way down to Shandong province. More petty measures have included a ban on burning incense for the deceased in cemeteries, and on taking your own incense into Buddhist temples.

As always, the Chinese authorities will do anything to look good and keep face when they host an international event. It seems to have worked too. In the five days since these measures have been in place, Beijing's skies have been a lovely blue, and the haze which is visible to the naked eye for much of the year (with the exception of when there are strong winds) has completely dissipated. 

According to the US embassy estimates, the ones which savy Beijingers trust the most, PM 2.5 levels have consistently remained below 200, the level which the WHO defines as "very unhealthy" (although today they are over 150, defined as "unhealthy", which in any European city would still be considered unacceptably high).

This shows you what sort of extreme steps currently have to be taken just to ensure a smog-free Beijing for a few days. Unfortunately such measures are not sustainable in the long run, and structural changes will be needed to achieve a long-term improvement. 

In the meantime we can all enjoy the Beijing sky's "APEC blue", as the locals have dubbed it.

The unusually clean air over central Beijing last Thursday.