Beijing declares success in clearing the air

“Beijing has demonstrated to the world over the past 20 years that a megacity with a rapidly increasing GDP, vehicle count, population and energy consumption can move forward to cut air pollution effectively. The PM2.5 reduction over the past few years has surpassed that of developed countries during the same period.”

Yu Jianhua (Beijing Municipal Ecology & Environment Bureau)
Joint efforts bring environmental improvements to Chinese capital

In addition to rapid economic development in the Chinese capital, one of the most impressive changes is improvement in local air quality.

On Jan 4, the municipal authorities in Beijing announced a comprehensive success in improving air quality, with the city’s annual average concentration of fine particulate matter in the air, or PM2.5, falling to 33 micrograms per cubic meter, and ozone concentration dropping to 149 mcg per cu m last year.

Yu Jianhua, spokesman for the Beijing Municipal Ecology and Environment Bureau, said at a news conference, “This is a milestone for Beijing’s hard work in combating air pollution and also means that the city has met its air quality target outlined in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) ahead of schedule.

Beijing achieved state air quality standards in 2021 (Photo: Yale360).

“Beijing has demonstrated to the world over the past 20 years that a megacity with a rapidly increasing GDP, vehicle count, population and energy consumption can move forward to cut air pollution effectively. The PM2.5 reduction over the past few years has surpassed that of developed countries during the same period.”

According to the bureau, the city’s average concentration of PM2.5 dropped by 63 percent last year from 2013, an average annual reduction of about 8 percent.

Concentrations of PM10 (inhalable particles with diameters of 10 micrometers or less), nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide all fell compared with levels in 2013. PM10 levels dropped by 49 percent, nitrogen dioxide by 54 percent and sulfur dioxide by 89 percent, Yu said.

The city experienced 288 days of good air quality last year-up from 112 days in 2013-and just eight days of heavy air pollution.

This achievement is clear to see and exciting, but it has not been easy work.

Yu said Beijing introduced large-scale air pollution control efforts in 1998, with a series of supportive measures taken since then. “It was a long-term process, involving three stages and many challenges,” he added.

From 1998 to 2012, the city authorities focused on solving pollution caused by coal-burning and carbon emissions from vehicles. They also upgraded the quality of petroleum.

The focus from 2013 to 2017 was on dealing with PM2.5 by adopting a strict action plan with 84 key measures. Specific companies and institutions were told to complete the task within this period.

These five years were the toughest period during the entire process, which involved efforts by residents, companies and the government in cutting emissions. In 2017, Beijing’s average concentration of PM2.5 dropped to 58 mcg per cu m from 89.5 mcg per cu m in 2013.

Since 2018, the city has worked to maintain blue-sky days, with related measures being switched from an industrial scale to detailed management work.

Electric buses operate in Beijing. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Transportation sector

The transportation sector has made a significant contribution to helping the capital reach national standards for air quality.

He Hongtao, 38, a Beijing engineer who had driven to work since 2008, when he started his career after graduation, switched to the subway in 2014.

“I remember there were several sandstorms in 2013, when the city government encouraged the public to use public transportation instead of driving, in order to cut emissions,” he said.

“Due to the smog, many people complained about the air quality and even moved out of Beijing to a better environment.

“I was thinking that instead of complaining, I would rather do something to help solve the problem, so I decided to take the subway to work. I only drove during weekends, when I needed to take the whole family out.”

Gradually, this became second nature, and He plans to stick to this routine.

“It’s not a big deal for one person, but when millions of people do the same, it makes a big difference,” He said.

To meet demand and provide a better service for the public, Beijing’s transportation authority has been upgrading the subway network for years.

Wu Shijiang, deputy head of the city’s transport commission, said the capital has built and will continue to provide a convenient and green public transportation network to protect the environment and reduce emissions.

By the end of last year, nine new subway lines or extensions had been put into operation, giving the public more transportation options, rather than driving. The total length of the city’s subway lines has reached 783 kilometers.

The municipal government has also improved cycle lanes for commuters.

According to the transportation authority, green travel is the most popular among Beijing residents, as it has cut emissions in the sector from source.

To reduce carbon emissions, the city’s residents have been encouraged in recent years to use new energy vehicles, with drivers of such cars being offered numerous preferential policies.

By 2020, there were 400,000 new energy vehicles in Beijing, and the number was rising by about 70,000 annually. According to the municipal government’s plan, there will be 2 million such vehicles in the city by 2025, which will further improve air quality.

Key contribution

Neighboring regions have also made a significant contribution to the improved air quality in Beijing.

He Kebin, a professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Environment and an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said emission reduction efforts in nearby areas, especially Hebei province and Tianjin, have been important in improving air quality in the capital.

For the past five years, Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei have coordinated efforts to prevent air pollution.

A scientific evaluation was carried out to assess the contribution made by regions neighboring Beijing in reducing emissions, He Kebin said. This work was supported by a series of important scientific research projects from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

The evaluation results showed that from 2013 to last year, surrounding areas contributed to a PM2.5 reduction of 14.4 mcg per cu m in Beijing.

He Kebin said Tianjin and Shanxi, Hebei, Henan and Shandong provinces contributed a PM2.5 reduction of 7.1 mcg per cu m in Beijing, accounting for 22.5 percent of the overall such reduction in the capital from 2013 to 2017.

“Generally speaking, the surrounding areas contribute about 25 to 30 percent to Beijing’s air quality improvement,” he said. “As the city’s air quality is already at a relatively good level, regional integrated control and prevention measures for better air will play an essential role in the future,” He Kebin added.

Meanwhile, science and technology have also played a vital role. Beijing was the first city in China to establish an urban air quality prediction system, which can accurately analyze sources of PM2.5 and its transmissions. The system has provided a scientific foundation for control and prevention work.

As people have become used to clear skies and fresh air in Beijing, the municipal government said efforts will continue this year to ensure good air quality for the public.

Source: China Daily, 2022-03-02.