So I actually wrote this piece on Quora originally, but I wanted to repackage it for the blog. I was intrigued by the question: ‘How much has Beijing’s smog improved since it’s worst point?’
I knew I could surprise a lot of Quorians with my answer as air quality is something I’ve always been fascinated by. My Masters’ thesis was on air quality analysis after all!
It’s drastically improved. The image on the left is during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and look at it now. Rewind two decades, the smog was horrendous. So much so you could taste it. So yeah, the Beijing air quality improvement plan is in full force.
And it’s all down to investment – £2.5 billion in 2017 in fact. China genuinely wanted to improve its air quality and pumped a lot of money into pollution monitoring. It’s called the Beijing high-density grid air quality programme. Their air quality monitoring network is extensive, with 1500 PM2.5 stations alone.
That way, Beijing can identify pollution hot spots, sources of emission, the different types of pollutants etc. You cannot implement air pollution remediation efforts without first knowing what you’re dealing with. Now Beijing can see what industries, even specific factories that emit copious amounts of pollutants and take action on them.
Pollution control remedies
A lot of the success is down to decommissioning old coal-fired power plants. And replacing them with 4 natural gas power plants, which is a far cleaner-burning fuel. Also, coal-fired boilers were very common but they’ve removed a tonne of them.
Getting heavy polluting vehicles off the roads has been key and replacing them with modern ones. Advanced catalytic converters act as a better filter to reduce emissions from exhausts. 2.17 million vehicles have been taken off the roads for recycling!
Look at this great downward trend. SO2 and nitrogen oxides are now within safe levels for an annual mean. And from 2013–2017, PM 2.5 levels have dropped 20.5% year-by-year.
Admittedly, there’s still work to be done. The PM 2.5 levels still exceed the World Health Organizations safe limits of 10 micrograms/m3 annual mean or a 24 hour mean of 25 micrograms/m3. And there’s still the issue of ‘pollution episodes’ during Autumn and Winter. This is outwith China’s monsoon season from April-July, and rain helps reduce air pollution concentrations because the water droplets combine with the pollutants and deposit them out of suspension. In Autumn and Winter, it’s cool and dry – perfect for pollution.
But it shows there’s no excuse. Beijing is a city of 21 million people and has shown vast economic growth doesn’t always need to be at the expense of the environment. Best practice can be shared with other countries, especially developing nations.
P.S. follow me on Quora if you want answers on air pollution and much more 🙂
If you want extra knowledge on air pollution, you can take my quiz.