Beijing’s new air quality warning system

Air pollution in Beijing, Goulard Sébastien

Last January, Beijing air pollution reached hazardous levels. This phenomenon was widely reported in the media (including here: –link to our post-). Eight months later, the Ministry of Environmental Protection unveiled a pilot plan for an air quality warning system to be shortly put into operation in Beijing and Tianjin1. With a better measurement index, China expects to have a clearer look at pollution reduction in Beijing.

This warning system will measure the effects of the new environmental policies launched over the last few months in Beijing2. These measures include limiting the use of cars, reducing coal consumption and upgrading Beijing’s polluting companies.

But, as Jing Li has pointed out3, these policies may not be efficient if implemented only in the capital city. Indeed, at least one fourth of Beijing’s pollution comes from factories located outside the municipality. Coordination needs to be strengthened at the regional or national level. The same environmental standards need to be implemented all over China, in order to prevent a divide between the urban, wealthy regions and rural, poor ones. Will this tough environmental policy affect the Chinese GDP? It is obvious that it will in the short term, but, as Huang points out, “It is entirely in China’s own interests to first reduce the energy intensity of its GDP growth and reduce the absolute levels of its carbon emissions4.

Other Chinese cities should not wait to reach the high pollution levels that Beijing has experienced before they react: they need to adopt the same measures, because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  1. Beijing to issue air pollution warnings (October 1, 2013) Xinhua, http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-10/01/content_17007188.htm accessed October 6, 2013 []
  2. Beijing issues new measures aimed at curbing air pollution (September 2, 2013), Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/02/us-china-pollution-beijing-idUSBRE98108920130902, accessed October 6, 2013 []
  3. Jing Li (September 24, 2013), Quarter of Beijing’s air pollution originates from elsewhere, SCMP, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1316320/quarter-beijings-air-pollution-originates-elsewhere, accessed October 6, 2013 []
  4. Huang Yashen (October 2, 2013), For breathable air, China must reduce the costs of its growth”, SCMP, http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1322172/breathable-air-china-must-reduce-costs-its-growth, accessed October 6, 2013 []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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