Beijing’s January Air Quality Plummets 52% vs Same Period Last Year

Now that January 2017 is in the bag, how’d we do on air quality?

Not good.

Beijing’s monthly average AQI index, as reported by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, was 147, 52 percent worse than last January’s figure of 97, and the worst January we’ve had since the MEP started regularly reporting data publicly in January of 2014.

This is significant because the city has pledged to reduce pollution by leaps and bounds this year, specifically targeting a reduction in the biggest contributor to Beijing’s bad air: PM2.5 (particulate matter under 2.5 microns in size). Beijing wants to keep the PM 2.5 concentration to under 60 micrograms per cubic meter, which would imply an AQI well under 100. (see China’s AQI definitions here)

The MEP’s daily data is reported in AQI (which factors in six major contributors to pollution, including PM2.5, PM10, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone), but does not release PM2.5 figures regularly on its website.

Last month featured 10 days of serious and heavy pollution (defined as an AQI over 300), as opposed to to January 2016, which had only three of those days.

Meanwhile, the number of Excellent days (AQI under 50) fell from January 2016’s nine to this January’s five.

Most of January’s worst days came at the beginning of the month during a horrendous stretch of seven consecutive days where the AQI was over 200, one of the worst weeks of bad air on record.

Some might attribute Beijing’s bad month to the quirk of Chinese New Year falling in January this year (it fell in February last year), which means additional use of fireworks and thus higher pollution.

Yes, Chinese New Year’s Eve this year did send the AQI skyrocketing and thus threw off the overall curve, but air on the other days of the holiday have been good so far. And even if we take that data point out of our calculations, the average for the month was still 43 percent worse than last January.

Though it’s early, this is a worrying trend as each year for the past three Beijing has made strides in improving the air. We’ve still got 11 months to go, but we’re already behind the ball if we want to see 2017 to be an improvement over last year.

No matter how you slice it, we’re off to a bad start for 2017.

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