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Although Beijing still frequently suffers from stretches of heavy air pollution, the city has made astonishing improvements since the Airpocalypse of 2013, when for several days readings of PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter, the most dangerous type of pollution in regional air pollution) literally went off the charts of the U.S. Embassy air quality monitor, which tops out at the U.S. EPA Air Quality Index value of 500. Today, Beijing averages around 40-50 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter over the course of a year. That's still worse than international standards (the World Health Organization guideline is 10 micrograms/m3 on an annual basis for PM2.5), but showing steady improvement since 2013, when the annual average was well above 100. Progress elsewhere in China has been less dramatic.
In this episode, we sit down to discuss air quality in Beijing and China with Lauri Myllyvirta, Lead Analyst with the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). Lauri has over 10 years of experience as an air pollution and climate expert, and has led numerous research projects on air pollution, assessing air quality and health impacts of energy policies, including more than a dozen modeling studies of the air quality and health impacts of coal-fired power plants. This research has been published and utilized in numerous countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Europe, Turkey, South Africa and others. Lauri has also contributed to numerous publications around energy solutions and air pollution and is asked frequently to attend seminars and conferences as an expert speaker. He served as a member of the Technical Working Group on regulating emissions from large combustion plants in the EU and currently serves as a member of the expert panel on regulating SO2 emissions in South Africa.
For a more visual look at the improvement and other changes in Beijing air quality, see this table of monthly Beijing air quality average readings derived from U.S. Embassy data: https://twitter.com/derznovich/status/1215877238094061569
CREA recently published data on the pollution trend in cities across China, showing how SO2 has seen the greatest improvement, along with PM2.5, while ozone has worsened: https://twitter.com/CREACleanAir/status/1217620620730609666/photo/1
The full report is available from CREA here: https://energyandcleanair.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/CREA-brief-China2019.pdf.
Finally, CREA has also analyzed which Chinese cities are on track to meet the most recent air quality targets for this winter: https://twitter.com/CREACleanAir/status/1217620635398156295/photo/2.