In response to the air pollution episode in Beijing in the past few days, Clean Air Asia has compiled relevant documents and links to help the public understand the problem better within the context of Beijing action as well as international action on air pollution episodes.
Beijing’s air pollution is beyond Index
This is the first time Beijing to release orange level haze warning and adopt its emergency response plan for extreme air pollution. Data from Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center showed that at part monitoring stations, PM2.5 concentration was over 700 μver3 and even reached 900 in transport monitoring stations on 12 January, far beyond the normal index 500μg/m3 in Air Quality Index technical guidelines, the heavy air pollution had lasted about a week.
Beijing’s current air pollution is affected by weather conditions
Beijing’s current air pollution is mainly caused by energy and transport sector emission as well as regional impact, and affected by weather conditions. The “heating” season is usually the most polluted time of the year in North China because of the significant emissions from coal combustion. This year has been aggravated by the poor dispersion of pollutants in Beijing and its surrounding areas, including Hebei, Henan and Shandong provinces. There is a lingering high pressure system that traps in pollutants in the surface of Beijing. This is shown by the letter 'H' in the surface weather map for Jan 13 1800 UTC (January 14, 2AM in Chinese standard time) provided in the attachment.
Beijing contains 39% flat land and the other 61% quite mountainous area, surrounding by the Yanshan Mountains on the west, north and east while the small alluvial plain of the Yongding River lies to its southeast. Pollutants are easily converged in the piedmont plain area in heating season while weather condition is also not conducive for evacuation which causes the accumulation of increased concentration in the city.
Air pollution level in Beijing is harmful to public health
Beijing is among the 7 out of 10 cities in Asia which have air pollution levels that are harmful to public health. Beijing is joined by other megacities and major cities such as Delhi, Dhaka, Kolkata, Mumbai, Shanghai and Ulaanbaatar whose levels do not even comply with the most lenient interim target-1 of World Health Organization.
The 11-year trend of annual average air pollution levels in Beijing (1999 to 2010) showed that while some improvements (33% change) have been made since 1999 for PM10, these levels still continue to exceed World Health Organization Guidelines. In 2010, Beijing had an annual average PM10 concentration of 121 µg/m3, about 6 times higher than the WHO Air Quality Guideline of 20 µg/m3.
WHAT HAS BEEN/IS BEING DONE
Beijing implements Emergency Response Plan for the first time
Clean Air Asia welcomes Beijing's implementation of its Emergency Response Plan for Heavy Air Pollution (specifically measures for extreme pollution levels, AQI>500) starting Sunday (January 13) which included the following key measures:
- Required heavy polluting enterprises to reduce emission by 30%. Among them, 58 key enterprises (involving building materials, metallurgy, and chemicals) under emission reduction monitoring have stopped production, and 41 enterprises have reduced production and reached the 30% emission reduction target.
- Construction was suspended at 28 construction sites and 54 businesses reduced their emissions by 30%, with Beijing Hyundai Motor Company halting production on Sunday, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said.
- Required 30% of vehicles owned by the government agencies and government affiliated institutes to stop running on the road, and provide more public transport in the mean time.
- Outdoor sports activities for primary and middle schools were ordered to be halted from Sunday to Tuesday in extreme pollution areas, including Tongzhou, Miyun, Daxing, Mentougou and Fangshan districts, the municipal authorities said.
- Suggestions provided to the public: do not go out unless necessary; wear masks when going out; and vulnerable groups such as elders, minors and people with chronic disease should see doctors if feeling uncomfortable.
- Fourteen inspection teams were dispatched to 14 districts and counties to oversee the pollution-reduction measures
For the public to know more about Beijing’s Emergency Response Plan, see link: http://zhengwu.beijing.gov.cn/yjgl/yjya/t1295465.htm
Beijing improved its communication of air quality to the public
Beijing has now included timely reporting of air quality data, through various avenues. The air quality data reported to the public is already consistent with the revised air quality standards (GB 3095-2012), even though national implementation is still in 2016. The Air Quality Index (AQI) provided by Beijing Environmental Monitoring Center (BJEMC) already includes PM2.5 (equivalent to (WHO) Interim Target 1 (IT-1) (70 µg/m3). This shows that Beijing is releasing data linked with health implications to public.
The BJEMC website (http://zx.bjmemc.com.cn/) provides detailed information on air quality levels per station and per pollutant in the city including PM2.5 - (fine particles).
WHAT CAN STILL BE DONE
This recent air pollution episode has triggered Beijing to take action that can be further used as basis for future action on air pollution in the country’s capital city. The Implementation of to the Emergency Response Plan kick started a multi-agency coordination to address air pollution in the city. The current response of the city may be monumental and should be recognized. These however may not be enough to achieve a long-term improvement in air pollution in Beijing and Clean Air Asia highlights some areas for improvement.
Seasonal Measures and Stronger Emergency Response Plans
The current Beijing Emergency Response Plan is still considerably conservative, as it is only to be implemented when pollution levels reach severe level. In addition, most of the measures in the plan are, at most, at a ‘suggestion’ level, even for industries. Mandatory emission reduction measures are only adopted when the AQI exceeds 300. A season-related response plan linked to effective tracking and activation of mandatory measures to reduce pollution before “severe” levels are reached need to be in place in Beijing as well as in major cities.
As air pollution in Beijing at this time of the year is affected by emissions from neighboring provinces, neighboring provinces of Beijing also need to implement seasonal and emergency control measures to help alleviate pollution of Beijing.
Proactive and long-term air quality management approach
Emergency response plans are ‘reactive’ measures. The level of pollution in major cities such as Beijing requires proactive and long-term air quality management, using a systematic approach, rather than short-term emergency measures. Air quality management should also extend to nearby provinces and major cities, as such Beijing should take the lead in further strengthening collaboration during this episode and during the Olympic Games in 2008 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.
Fast-track the implementation of the PM2.5 standards
China is among the 50% of countries in Asia that have adopted PM2.5 standards. Fast-tracking the implementation of the PM2.5 standards equivalent to the WHO IT-1 prior to planned 2016 could greatly reduce health impacts of these fine particulates in major Chinese cities.
Click to read in Chinese
About Clean Air Asia (www.cleanairasia.org)
Clean Air Asia, formerly Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities, is the leading regional air quality network in Asia. The organization’s mission is “to promote better air quality and livable cities by translating knowledge to policies and actions that reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from transport, energy and other sectors.” Clean Air Asia was established in 2002 and now has offices in Manila, Beijing, and Delhi. It is supported by 8 country networks, and over 230 partnership members.
For more information, please contact the Clean Air Asia China office at