Two weeks of "excellent" air quality in Beijing - magic?

Pollution is not only bad for health – it's also bad for business. Poor air quality is estimated to cost governments billions, while also indirectly impacting the economy through negative publicity.

Think back to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Event press was largely overshadowed by public nervousness and criticism of the city's air pollution. Environmental scientists and experts in sport medicine were all worried about the adverse effects of Beijing’s smog and were not shy to vocalize their concerns (Kelso, 2008). Naturally, this kind of negative publicity can have a terrible impact on tourism and the economy - hence the occasional reason for government intervention to moderate this perception.

“Government sanctioned clean air” is a term used to describe temporary measures to improve air quality. These procedures usually occur before and during major events and times of high international exposure. The objective is two-fold, 1) to create a healthier environment, and 2) to create a platform for positive publicity.

The method for achieving clean air is surprisingly simple – reduce emissions. To do so, governments typically adopt a series of temporary measures including shutting down factories and reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

In Beijing, this kind of government sanctioned clean air is a regular occurrence since pollution levels are regularly higher than what is considered healthy. The most recent sanctions occurred on the 20th of August 2015, when Beijing adopted temporary measures to improve air quality due to the IAAF championship and the Military parade, both of which will be hosted within the city limits. To reduce air pollution the government authorized a series of temporary measures including; a 30% reduction of production from coal-fired plants, a 50% reduction of cars permitted to drive, the reduction of production at polluting industries, and the suspension of all construction projects (Bo, 2015).

As a result, the Beijing community has been breathing “excellent” air quality for the past five days – with an average PM2.5 being less than 19.5 micrograms (Zhu, 2015).

While these short-term actions are credible, temporary fixes are just that - temporary. The long-term objective should be to make these kinds of days the norm. For now, we can only celebrate the small wins and breathe happily in Beijing for a few more days.

**During these days - please understand that the Air Visual pollution forecast in Beijing may not be accurate. Our machine learning algorithm cannot predict unforeseen government intervention or disasters which interfere with typical pollution emissions. We are working to add an exogenous factor into our algorithm to make it more precise. Thank you for your understanding.

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