Beijing's reputation for experiencing some of the world’s worst air pollution is widely known, thanks to its history of news-breaking pollution events.
A deeper analysis of the city's air quality data and trends, however, reveals a hopeful future.
In late 2019, IQAir AirVisual published “State of the Air: 2008 to August 2019”, an analysis of Beijing air quality data since monitoring records began.
Among its findings:
- Beijing is on track to reduce PM2.5 by almost 20 percent in 2019 compared to 2018, and by almost a third from 2017
- Beijing will likely drop out of the world’s top 200 most polluted cities in 2019 or in the following years
Download this unprecedented report from the Beijing air quality page – the download link is in the "Beijing air quality analysis and statistics" section.
What should I know about Beijing’s air quality?
Beijing, a city of over 21 million people in northeastern China, has seized air quality headlines over the past decade due to its alarming levels of air pollution.
Since 2000, the city’s population has increased four times over, bringing millions of mostly young Chinese nationals to seek out their fortunes in one of the world’s foremost economic powerhouses of the past few decades.1
And with this boom in population came an increase in many human sources of airborne pollutants, such as factories, residential and commercial construction, and a glut of automobiles that continue to emit many tons of vehicle exhaust into the atmosphere every day.2
But not all of Beijing’s poor air quality is linked to human (also called anthropogenic) causes. In fact, nearly half of the ozone measured in the city blows in from other cities in the region, and the entrapment of airborne pollutants created by the burning of wood and coal for fuel during the cold winter months by temperature inversions and high pressure over the city can quickly make the city’s air quality exponentially worse in a matter of days.3
Beijing’s air quality issues came into the public eye in 2008, when the city hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and spent as much as $40 billion to reduce air pollution in the Beijing metro area in order to maintain eligibility for hosting the games.4
The city was successful in doing so, but Beijing’s air quality problems came to a head yet again in 2013, when the city was gripped by a deadly wave of heavy smog – the pollution was so bad that, at times, the city’s air quality was simply recorded as “off the charts”.5
Since then, the governments of Beijing and China as a whole have spent billions to reduce air pollution by shutting down factories and capping coal consumption at manageable levels.6,7
As a result, Beijing has now largely disappeared from the list of the world’s most polluted cities – though the city still struggles with air quality problems, Beijing has restored its reputation worldwide as an example of how to combat even the worst instances of air quality and set a precedent for other major urban areas to resolve their own growing air quality issues.