Sunday, December 7, 2008

Air Quality in Beijing- Progress and Prospects

During CGS's recent trip back to the States, many people asked about air quality in Beijing, given the government's herculean efforts during the Olympics to improve it. Despite CGS's affiliation to a research group at Beida that specializes in air pollution control, it's not something CGS knows a great deal about. So a recent post from our friend at LiveFromBeijing, David Vance Wagner, provides some welcome quantitative rigor to CGS's bumbling answer, "well, the sky sure looks a lot bluer..."

Vance's data shows that

Although the air quality since 9/21 hasn't been as good as it was during the Olympic period, the average particulate matter concentration in the air this fall has been over 20% lower than the same time period last year and almost 40% lower than the same time period two years ago.
Jiayou, Beijing. Vance notes that PM10 concentrations in our favorite northern Chinese megacity, which are particularly important for environmental health, are still above those recommended by the World Health Organization, but hey, progress is progress.

Speaking of which, we need some serious progress on those climate negotiations in Poznan. Last week CGS wrote about the need to block the climate deadlock. The recent book CGS referenced, Can Asia Change the Game?, intelligently emphasizes the need for climate negotiations to focus on co-benefits for developing countries between fighting air pollution and climate change with policy measures that do both.

Air pollution is a more concrete and (in political terms) more pressing environmental issue than climate change for many developing nations. Its impact on human health is established and direct, and air pollution impacts the denizens of large developing cities in innumerable, very visible ways.

A co-benefits approach that emphasizes measures to reduce both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions would focus on reducing trips by private autos, favoring the use of mass transit, bicycles, and even walking. It would also focus on the adoption of sustainable construction practices (this is where our man Geoff at China Green Buildings comes in), and a shift away from fossil fuel combustion in electricity generation.

The co-benefits approach stands a good chance of gaining traction with developing nations eager to please domestic constituencies (and let's face it, they all are) by focusing not just on the abstract notion of "climate change," but also environmental problems that more directly impact everyday life. We just want to avoid an American-style political sleight of hand where politicians stand in front of some mountain range declaring that the air is clean and then fly away in a jumbo jet.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Scott-
    Great post. Good to get some stats to confirm our suspicion that Beijing air quality has actually improved.

    As far as improving local air quality goes, I think it's a double edged sword. Check out my post on Asian brown clouds:

    The scary thing is these clouds, formed by local pollution from autos and coal plants, actually reduce the effects of global warming by 20-80% according to UNEP. So if we just clean up industry over night without lowering CO2 emissions, we could be in for more severe short term climactic changes. Pretty crazy huh?