Beijing residents have been marveling at the surprisingly good air quality in the typically smoggy Chinese capital over the past month. In contrast to the “airpocalypse” that hit China’s northeast in 2013, some have taken to calling this year ”Beijing’s airenaissance.”
It’s not just a fluke. An analysis by Greenpeace found that the concentration of PM2.5, particulate matter in the air small enough to enter one’s blood stream, fell by 13% during the first quarter. Compared to the past few years, this is a marked improvement, especially for the winter and early spring, a time when the smog is usually at its worst as more coal is burned for heat.
Some observers are thanking a milder winter and windier weather, which sweeps stagnant smog out of the city, for the temporary respite. But government efforts like shutting down coal-fired power plants around the city or taking six million cars off the road may mean the effects are more long-term. Earlier this week, researchers from the London School of Economics said that China’s greenhouse gases output, a major contributor to global warming, could peak in 2025, five years earlier than officials previously promised.
Still, China shouldn’t applaud itself just yet. Experts caution that these improvements have to be measured over several years, and even blue-sky days are often still accompanied by poor air quality. The LSE researchers concluded, “China’s international commitment to peak emissions ‘around 2030’ should be seen as a conservative upper limit from a government that prefers to under-promise and over-deliver.”