An unusual silence reigned in Beijing and many other cities in China this Lunar New Year, as fireworks– as quintessential to the celebration as dragons, red packets and Reunion Dinner– were banned to keep air pollution levels down.
Its novelty would attract the attention of the foreign press, but the ban was just the tip of a huge, five-year long iceberg of policies that have seen Beijing go from poster-city of emergency-level air pollution to one of the top cities for air quality in the country.
Early February, Beijing met its own standards for particulate pollution for the first time since these goals were set in 2012– standards that also put in motion a series of policies and regulations, from dramatically reducing reliance on coal-based energy and shutting down polluting factories in the provinces neighbouring Beijing, to strict personal transport rules to bring down car emissions and, yes, even passing potentially unpopular prohibitions like the firework ban.
Signs of improved air quality in the midst of what is usually smoke haze season were clear this year, with the capital city and its surrounds reporting a majority of “good air” days in the month, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
A combination of concerted effort (a changeover from coal/biomass space heating to less polluting sources) and favourable weather saw 13 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region record “good air” on 64.5 per cent of days, up by 28.3 percentage points from the same time last year, the Ministry said in a statement.
In Beijing, that proportion of days was 80.6 per cent, with no serious air pollution registered.
The average density of PM2.5 in Beijing stood at 34 micrograms per cubic meter in January, dropping by 70.7 per cent year-on-year; the average level of PM10 was 64 micrograms per cubic meter, down by 51.1 per cent from the same period last year.
An air pollution plan issued by the State Council in September 2013 ordered Beijing to reduce its PM2.5 density from 90 micrograms per cubic meter in 2013 to around 60 micrograms per cubic meter by the end of 2017.
It may have had a silent start, but this Year of the Dog is likely to see ramped up efforts to keep air pollution under control, as China prepares to spend over 19 billion yuan (or about 3 billion US dollars) to reduce air pollution in the Chinese capital.
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