By Anders Hove
For the last few weeks people in Beijing have been talking about how uncharacteristically clear the air has been. Several news outlets have reported that Beijing’s pollution levels have shown improvement since Jan 1, the day China’s new environmental law came into force.
But does the clean air represent a real turning point, resulting from policy actions and the new law? It’s still too soon to say. For starters, local ambient air quality depends strongly on weather conditions like wind, humidity, and air inversions. It’s true that after considering various weather factors, air quality in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region (also called Jing-Jin-Ji) in the last few months has indeed been better compared with 2014. In the first four months of 2015, the average concentration of PM2.5 has fallen more than 25% from the same period in 2014. Since a few weeks of heavy pollution can skew the averages, it’s important to consider the median value, and that has fallen as well: from 96 micrograms per cubic meter in the first four months of 2014 to just 70 micrograms so far this year. (While the improvement is notable, Beijing’s ambient air quality remains far worse than the national standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter, let alone the World Health Organization’s annual standard of 10 micrograms per cubic meter.)
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