Friday, July 31, 2009



After a year of blogging here on blogspot, I've decided it's time for a slight upgrade. Most importantly, I need to shift to a domain which will enable my blog to be viewable within mainland China. (Blogspot, along with a host of other sites, has been blocked since mid-May.) I also have some web ideas up my sleeve that I can't realize on blogspot alone.

Therefore, I'm very happy to introduce my new website and blog:

This is my last post at this blog address. All of my old posts have been migrated to the new site. Starting now, please visit / bookmark / link to instead of this blog.

Also, for those of you who have subscribed to my feed, please note my new feed:

For now, the new site will be functionally similar to this one. In the coming weeks and months, I hope and expect to be adding some pages and features. For now, though, at least I should be up and posting again.

Comments and questions welcome; as always, you can reach me at livefrombeijing at gmail dot com. Thanks for reading, and see you over at the new site.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

livefrombeijing is under construction


I am doing some site maintenance (and have been really busy), so my posting will likely be light for the next little while.

For the record, this is not "maintenance" as related specifically to the massive information control currently occurring in China as a result of the protests / riots in Xinjiang. The maintenance I am doing is, however, related to the fact that blogspot (including this blog), has been blocked in China since mid-May. Especially given the events of the last two days, it seems unlikely that China will unblock blogspot for some time; therefore, I am in the process of setting up a new blog and migrating my posts.

With Twitter blocked again as of Sunday night, I was a little disappointed to see the BeijingAir feed tweet about "routine maintenance":

A more appropriate tweet would be "Site is currently under routine harmonization. Please refer to the last available reading."

Lastly, here is some recent news reading / placeholders for future commentary:

7/2 China Daily: Beijing air cleanest in 9 years
7/3 Time blog: Cleaner Skies in Beijing
7/4 Xinhua: Chinese Minister refutes doubts over air quality results during Olympics
7/6 CELB: Beijing Makes Straw Man of Paper Tiger

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

xinhua's international herald leader on the us embassy air quality monitor

This post contains some translation and commentary on the recent story in Xinhua's International Herald Leader (国际先驱导报) on the US Embassy's independent air quality monitor. The story was reprinted in the Hong Kong-based Phoenix magazine (凤凰) here.

First, title: I think it's noteworthy that, although the stories in the two Chinese-language sources are the same, the title in the IHL is 美国驻华使馆自建空气监测站 ("US Embassy Independently Sets Up Air Quality Monitoring Station"), whereas that in the Hong Kong-based Phoenix is more provocative: 美驻华使馆发布自测北京空气指数 与气象局数据分歧 ("US Embassy in China Issues Independently-Tested Beijing Air Quality Index - Different from the Meteorological Bureau's Data").

And now content: The IHT begins with similar content as the China Daily story: information about the Embassy's twitter feed and concerns about discrepancies with the officially-reported data, followed by assurance from an Embassy official that the numbers are not directly comparable. As in the China Daily, the IHT story then describes the health impact differences between PM2.5 and PM10.

Following this, though, the IHT diverges from the China Daily story. A section titled 建监测站应循通行规则 (Regulations Should Be Followed When Setting Up Monitoring Stations) questions whether the US Embassy's data is even valid:


According to Zhang Renhe, Director of the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, an air quality monitor must be installed in a location representative of of the entire city; moreover, there should be no pollution sources within 50m that could strongly impact the monitoring results...

In fact, the US embassy's independent air quality monitoring station is not in accordance with international criteria.



Completed last August, the US Embassy is located in the CBD business area, near the prime locations around Liangmahe. It is near the Ladies' Market and other commercial areas with high weekday traffic and bustling crowds; these factors all possibly influence the data recorded by the monitor.

On the 28th, this reporter visited the location of the US Embassy and discovered the large scale demolition of Super Bar Street across the street; much dust blew out from the messy construction site. Additionally, on the south side was another embassy area under construction...
Although the article does not question the accuracy of the Embassy's data, it clearly indicates that the Embassy's data is disproportionately bad because of poor and non-standard monitor placement. This possibility was not raised in the China Daily piece.

(Side note for future investigation: I think perhaps the US Embassy monitor is at the old embassy near Ritan park, not on site at the new location.)

Moving on, the article briefly mentions Steven Andrews' criticisms of Beijing's air quality management, that Beijing's air quality monitors have been selectively placed in areas of low pollution to yield better overall averages and that officials artificially inflated the statistics on number of blue sky days. Although it is noteworthy that the article mentions Mr. Andrews at all (I haven't seen his analysis directly covered in the Chinese media before), the article immediately quotes experts supposedly refuting his claims:


"Everyone can see the number of blue sky days, so how can they be faked?" [an analyst with the Chinese Academy of Meteorology] commented. In her eyes, to ensure a smooth Olympics in Beijing, through the effort of all of Beijing's citizens, there was indeed an obvious improvement to Beijing's air quality. "More blue sky days means a more transparent atmosphere, which means to some extent less pollutants."

In addition, Zhang Renhe felt he "couldn't understand" the suspicion that "some of the monitoring stations are located in low pollution areas." "Don't forget, air is also flowing," he said.
I can't quite understand what either of these experts meant, which may or may not be due to the language barrier. Despite that, though, it doesn't seem as if either expert addressed Mr. Andrews' concerns directly, so it doesn't make sense to me that the article would raise them at all.

Finally, the article quotes an anonymous Beijing EPB official saying that the Embassy is breaking no laws by independently monitoring air quality, before closing with this quote:

"However, the relevant "Environmental Monitoring Regulations" have already been placed into the State Council's legislation plan for this year; there is hope they will be passed this year," [the Beijing EPB official] said.
In other words, although there is nothing wrong with Beijing's current monitoring system, the Beijing EPB still hopes that it will be improved this year with new, unspecified State Council legislation.

Although I was initially encouraged by yesterday's direct and somewhat challenging China Daily piece, this Chinese-language Xinhua piece is more of what I would expect from China's state media: convoluted logic and fact-twisting that attempts to shape reality to fit the government's agenda as opposed to strong investigative reporting attempting to uncover the truth.

china daily features online survey on beijing's air quality monitoring

When I wrote yesterday about the China Daily article on the discrepancies between China's officially reported air quality data and the US Embassy's BeijingAir Twitter feed, I didn't realize that the China Daily story appeared on the site's home page along with an incredibly direct web survey:

Web surveys are, of course, not scientific or reliable at all, but nonetheless here's a screen capture of the results as of around 11am this morning:

It's difficult to imagine such a critical survey happening on a Chinese-language state media site, but I will keep an eye out for anything comparable.

Lastly, for the record, there are several mistakes in the China Daily story that I should point out. Three are in this sentence alone: "A blue-sky day is when the city's air pollution index, the level of five airborne pollutants, falls below 100, indicating that no health implications exist."

First, MEP makes no claim that blue-sky days have "no health implications," only that those days have the poorly-defined "excellent" or "good" air quality. Air quality on blue-sky days can certainly have negative health implications, especially for sensitive populations in the short term and for everyone in the long term. What MEP calls "good," the US EPA calls "moderate," saying, "Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution."

Second, the air pollution index only covers three pollutants, not five. I'm not sure how China Daily made this mistake, because later in the article they describe the number correctly ("the current evaluation system uses only three indices: Sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and PM 10s"), although they get the pollutants wrong. (The three are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and PM10.)

Third, this is minor, but a blue-sky day is a day in which the API is technically 100 or below, not below 100.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

china daily questions official air quality statistics

The story about the US Embassy's BeijingAir air quality twitter feed (whose subscribers now top 2,200) was picked up by the China Daily today. Perhaps surprisingly, the China Daily article uses the embassy data to question whether the Beijing EPB's official data present an accurate view of Beijing's air quality:
China Daily calculated that only five days were above "moderate" level in May on BeijingAir, but the local environment bureau said on its website on May 31 that the capital's air quality was the clearest during the same period since 2000, with 25 blue-sky days.
However, the article goes on to quote both an embassy official and a Chinese expert cautioning that the single station is not representative of Beijing's overall air quality:
"This is a single site," [US Embassy spokesperson Susan] Stevenson said. "It cannot be used to measure the air quality across the city. They can't be compared."
"The embassy is located in the central business district, which has heavy traffic, and its monitoring station cannot represent the overall picture," Zhu Tong, an environment professor with Peking University, said yesterday.
Signficantly, the China Daily article does not question whether or not the embassy data is valid for that area, only whether the single data point can be extrapolated out to the rest of the city. To me, this is an important distinction, because collective agreement that the embassy data is valid should ultimately help pressure the Beijing EPB to set up their own real-time PM2.5 monitors across the city (which is the direction we should be driving in).

The article closes with this comment, noteworthy for its open questioning of air quality data. Such questioning is rare in the Chinese state-run media:
Some residents expressed doubts about the official air quality data.

Wang Haiyan, a 36-year-old Beijinger living in Chaoyang district, said that even under a different measuring system, there is still no reason to get such different air quality results.
Within Chinese-language media, Xinhua's International Herald Leader (国际先驱导报) published a story two days ago (also printed with a different title in the Hong Kong-based Phoenix magazine (凤凰) here) on the US Embassy's air quality reporting; the story included this photo that is apparently of the monitor:

As one would expect, the tone of the Xinhua piece is much more defensive of the official data and critical of the embassy. Unfortunately, I don't have time now to write more on this; stay tuned tomorrow for some translation and commentary.

Monday, June 29, 2009

krugman's indictment of climate change deniers

Paul Krugman's column today is highly recommended. It is a scathing indictment of climate change deniers in the US Congress:
But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn't see people who've thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don't like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they've decided not to believe in it — and they'll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.
Because the overwhelming - and still increasing - scientific evidence demonstrates that climate change presents a "clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself," he calls the denial of climate change "irresponsible and immoral."

In an aside (and as an economist), he further bolsters his case with this zinger:
Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.
(Further info on the economic misrepresentation he mentions here and here.)

In the US-China climate debate, although there is still a lot to be settled, at the very least it seems that the top leadership of both nations agree on the core science of what is causing climate change and where we need to be - in terms of global emission reductions - by what date.

On this point, earlier this month, I was encouraged by what Todd Stern, the US' top climate negotiator, had to say when speaking at the Center for American Progress:
Q: I wonder if you might comment, in talking to Chinese officials, do you feel you're speaking on the basis of the same science?

MR. STERN: ...I have not had a sense that [the Chinese] are in some completely different place with respect to what the underlying science terms of the overall kind of dynamics – where we're going, where need to go – I don't think it's a dramatically different assessment.
(Transcript here). Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the US' own legislature.

Friday, June 26, 2009

beijing epb responds to us embassy air quality twitter feed

A friend tipped me to an article in today's South China Morning Post (registration required) on the US Embassy's Beijing air quality twitter feed.

Although the majority of the content of the SCMP piece echoes that published last week in other sources, there is one important bit of new information:
Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing's environment protection bureau, was unaware of the US embassy's move, but said: "Any attempts to question our figures with a single monitoring station are not authoritative enough."
This could get bad. Let's see if it gets picked up by other media and begins to escalate.

FYI, the twitter feed has around 1600 followers now (up from 300 just a week ago).

Monday, June 22, 2009

us embassy outed as source of beijingair twitter feed

On Friday of last week, Time's Austin Ramzy outed the BeijingAir twitter feed as being set up and administered by the US Embassy:
The U.S. Embassy operates a single station in eastern Beijing that records levels of PM2.5, fine particles considered particularly dangerous to human health...

While the U.S. doesn't actively promote the information, it has slowly been getting more attention from Beijing residents concerned about the city's air quality. "The U.S. Embassy has an air quality monitor to measure PM 2.5 particulates on the Embassy compound as an indication of air quality," says Susan Stevenson, a State Department spokesperson. "This monitor is a resource for the health of the Embassy community." She cautions that citywide analyses cannot be done from a single machine, but because the embassy has the data available, it makes it available to others.
Before the story came out, there were around 300 followers of the feed; now there are more than 1,100 and rising fast.

Beijing experienced some bizarre and extremely rapid changes in air quality on Thursday and Friday of last week. On both days, BeijingAir reported maximum pollution levels (hazardous air, AQI = 500) for brief periods in the afternoon. However, hazardous air was never reported by either the Beijing EPB or MEP, presumably because the pollution spikes on both days were short-lived enough that the overall 24-hour averages evened out as just "light pollution." (More discussion here and here.)

Here's a graph showing BeijingAir and MEP-reported air quality over the period noon Tuesday to midnight Sunday last week. Because MEP has no system for real-time reporting, the extreme pollution spikes on the 18th and 19th were never truly reflected in MEP's air quality data:

The events of last week highlight the need for real-time reporting of air quality in Beijing. I wonder if the growing popularity of the embassy's twitter feed will ratchet up pressure on MEP / Beijing EPB to implement such a system here in Beijing.

Final note: the speed of the drop in pollution levels during the afternoon of 6/19 was stunning. With no technical background in air quality modeling or meteorology, I have no idea how this is even possible:

Friday, June 19, 2009

more info on beijing's 6/18 air quality

Yesterday, beginning at around 10am, there was a sudden and dramatic spike of air pollution here in Beijing. I blogged about it here, and it was covered in the Guardian and Time's blog, with surely more to come. The pollution spike lasted until close to midnight yesterday. I presume yesterday evening's rain is what ended the event, although it should be noted that, as I write this, the pollution seems to be creeping up again.

Yesterday's pollution spike may be seen very clearly in the BeijingAir tweeted hourly data over the past couple of days. Shown here are PM2.5 concentration and AQI:

Note the missing data points in the afternoon of 6/18 and the maxing out of AQI at 500 during the same period.

Despite yesterday afternoon's stifling pollution, MEP's officially reported Air Pollution Index (API) for 6/18 was just 104 - indicating "slightly polluted" air quality. The reason, as noted yesterday, is that MEP's API does not report real-time air quality; it is an average air quality indicator covering noon to noon beginning from the previous day. Therefore, we wouldn't expect the afternoon pollution spike of 6/18 to show up until the 6/19 reported data point.

However, the API for 6/19, which was released a few minutes ago, is just 159 ("lightly polluted"), which is significantly lower than I would have expected.

Edit: An API of 159 - corresponding to a PM10 concentration of 266 ug/m^3 - still represents awful air quality, despite my use of the word "just." China's daily/yearly goals for PM10 are 150/100 ug/m^3, while the WHO's recommended targets are 50/20 ug/m^3.

The following graph shows MEP PM10 and API data, as well as BeijingAir PM2.5 and AQI data, for the last few days. Note that the absolute magnitudes of the BeijingAir and MEP data are not directly comparable due to slightly different measurements and scales. But the trending should be the same:

Although the MEP data increases beginning noon on 6/18, as one would expect, the increase just doesn't seem commensurate with the seemingly atrocious pollution yesterday afternoon and evening.

What's going on here? Well, there are a few options, but I'm not sure which one is correct:

First - it's theoretically possible that, because MEP averages over 24 hours over a number of different monitoring stations, the overnight reduction combined with lower pollution outside the city center brought the overall average down. Here is the daily individual monitor data from the Beijing EPB:

There are certainly some high readings, e.g. Dongsi, but there are also some that report only half as bad (Pinggu, Miyun).

Second - it is possible that the BeijingAir monitor is either not calibrated correctly or suffered some unusual activity (e.g. a car idling for an extended period outside the monitor). This seems unlikely.

Third - I'm not sure if this is correct or not, but it may be possible that the pollution event was largely PM2.5 - particles of diameter smaller than 2.5 microns - that do not register in the EPB's monitoring stations designed to measure PM10. Can anyone comment on this?

Fourth - I don't think I need to write this option explicitly.

More info as I learn it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

air in beijing hazardous

BeijingAir is currently reporting hazardous air quality in Beijing (there was an error in the most recent hour, but you can see the PM2.5 concentration slowly creeping up over the course of the morning and early afternoon):

Note, though, that with the AQI maxed out at 500, the air quality is theoretically worse than "hazardous," whatever that might be.

On the other hand, MEP is reporting an API today of 104, "slightly polluted."

A few people have asked me about this blatant discrepancy, so here's a brief comment:

It's important to remember that MEP's reported API for 6/18/09 is actually an average API for the period noon to noon 6/17 to 6/18. Given that this current pollution spike seems to have rolled in over the course of the late morning and early afternoon, it is reasonable that the impact has not yet registered in the MEP reported data. From the perspective of MEP's official reporting, we will have to wait until around 2pm tomorrow to see the results of this episode.

Of course, this discrepancy highlights the necessity of working towards a system of real-time air quality reporting (like the AIRNow program in the US) in Chinese cities. (More on this in another post.)

Final note: during my time in Beijing (3.5 years), I've only experienced a handful of days in which MEP reported a 500 API. The most recent ones were 12/28/2007 and 12/12/2006, plus a few during the sandstorm season of the spring of 2006. I am curious to know if tomorrow will yield another.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

symmetric characters

This is an off-topic post continuing in an occasional series on Chinese character esoterica.

As an engineer, I am a bit obsessed with the structures and patterns of individual Chinese characters.

Recently (don't ask how), I stumbled upon the character , and it got me thinking about symmetry within characters. Specifically, how many characters out there are symmetric across both the x and y-axes? Here are the ones I could think of:


I'm sure there's more out there; anyone think of any?

Lastly, this exercise reminds me of a Chinese character riddle a colleague once shared with me: starting from 日, by adding one stroke, you can make 9 different characters. Can you think of them all?

Monday, June 8, 2009

how clean were april and may?

This past spring, the months of April and May in Beijing were reported as the cleanest April / May in a decade. (Sources for April: China Daily and Beijing EPB, see also my previous post; sources for May: Xinhua and Beijing EPB.)

Independent of the quantitative results, these reports seem to confirm what a lot of people have been mentioning to me, that this past spring has seemed surprisingly clean.

Let's evaluate the truth in all of this. The following graph shows average API*, average PM10 concentration, and number of Blue Sky Days for the period April-May from 2005 through 2009:

From these numbers, the results are pretty clear: the period April-May 2009 in Beijing was indeed significantly better in terms of air quality than the same period in any of the previous four years. (I could have looked farther back, but I decided only to look at five years total for this analysis.)

Here are some comparisons of 2009 vs 2005-2008 averages:

I think it's probably fair to say that the air quality this April and May was 30-40% better than the average air quality during the same period over the previous four years.

As usual, we should celebrate the progress while being mindful of the significant improvements still required. My calculated average PM10 concentration for this period, 117 ug/m^3, is still well above China's annual target (100 ug/m^3) and well well above the WHO's ideal target for developed nations (20 ug/m^3). It is also well above my estimate for the average PM10 concentration during last year's two-month Olympic period (79 ug/m^3).

Summary of Beijing's 2009 first quarter air quality
Summary of Beijing's 2008 air quality
Update on fall air quality in Beijing

*I don't really like averaging API, because it can lead to some misleading results (further discussion in this post), but despite that I still think it has value as an indicator here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

frozen in time - beijingair twitter feed shows exact hour twitter was blocked in china

The BeiingAir automatic Twitter feed is stuck at 6/2, 4:00pm, just before Twitter was blocked in China.

I'm working on some analysis for another post related to the BeijingAir Twitter feed, which automatically tweets hourly PM2.5 concentrations at a single station in Beijing.

In looking at the data just now, though, I realized that it hasn't updated since June 2nd at 4:00pm, shortly before Twitter was harmonized in China.

It may be just a robotic scientific instrument (a Met One Bam 1020), but don't you think it still had its feelings hurt? Let's all hope for a prompt release of Twitter so Bam can get back to doing what it does best.

Update 6/8/09: Twitter is back, and so is the feed:

Looks like Twitter was officially blocked for 5 days, 22 hours...

excellent summaries of status of us-china climate change negotiations

Last week, describing US-China negotiations related to climate change, Rep. Edward Markey quipped, “This is going to be on one of the most complex diplomatic negotiations in the history of the world.”

The netisphere is grateful this week to the incredible series of posts from both Charlie McElwee of China Environmental Law and Julian Wong of the Green Leap Forward /Center for American Progress on this topic.

First up, Charlie's series on both China and the US' positions six months out from Copenhagen, including tremendous summaries of the diplomatic challenges as well as in-fighting going on within each country:

6/1: Copenhagen Countdown China's Climate Change Position
6/2: Copenhagen Countdown US' Climate Change Pposition
6/3: Copenhagen Countdown T-6 Months Wrap Up
6/4: No Climate Deal Without China

(Also recommended is his three-part series from February: US China Climate Change Engagement Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Charlie's posts are so good, that having read them just before watching Todd Stern's talk Wednesday at CAP, I was left with the distinct feeling that I wish Mr. McElwee were the US' top climate negotiator instead of Mr. Stern...

Next, Julian's great work for CAP on exactly what China has been up to on the climate front:

6/3: Climate Progress in China: A Primer on Recent Developments
6/4: China Begins Its Transition to a Clean Energy Economy

Like Charlie's posts, these are comprehensive summaries that - along with the myriad links contained within them - are recommended reading both for people just getting up to speed on these issues and those buried deep in them.

Lastly, I haven't posted too much on the US-China climate change negotiations largely because I think others out there (like Charlie and Julian) are already doing a terrific job. However, I did want to show one figure that I think is at the core of why this is such a diplomatic challenge. I like to call this this figure if you only look at one graph this year related to US-China climate negotiations, make it this one:

Source: the Asia Society's Roadmap for US-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Change

This is an excellent figure, because it encompasses in parallel perhaps the three most important numbers (both absolute and relative) that matter for each country going into the US-China climate dialogue. It is critical that all three of these graphs be acknowledged simultaneously, because the selective ignoring of any one can drastically change one's perspective on who bears responsibility for acting and on what scale.

news to be positive about: PM2.5 and ozone monitoring coming soon; Pollution Transparency Index

Three recent air pollution-related news stories to be positive about:

1) China Daily: Tougher rules for air quality likely soon
China is mulling more stringent appraisal standards for air quality, and pilot projects are likely to start from coastal cities in the Yangtze River delta and Pearl River delta next year.

The environmental authorities are planning to include particles less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) and ozone, into the Air Pollution Index (API), which currently measures the concentration of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM10, or particles smaller than 10 microns.
This is terrific news. With the pressure of the Olympics off, I was beginning to think that MEP had forgotten about the comments they made last year on this topic. No dates given in the article, but still a positive sign.

2) China Daily: Pollution index up and running
China's first Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI) has been officially launched and has published its first annual assessment of the pollution information disclosure performance of 113 Chinese cities for 2008.

The PITI, set up by the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), is part of efforts to strengthen public awareness and supervision of environmental issues and protection.
Here is the link to the index methodology and results (Chinese). Note that the index encompasses several types of pollution, not just air pollution. Although most cities scored rather poorly (Beijing overall scored 49.1 out of 100), it's still encouraging to see this index go public as a baseline for future comparison. It is also very encouraging to see this activity by NGOs reported in the Chinese media.

3) Xinhua: China's central environment authorities to open hotline for direct complaints
BEIJING, June 4 (Xinhua) -- People who have complaints about environmental pollution in China would have a direct way to inform the Ministry of Environmental Protection as the ministry opens a tip-off hotline on Friday, the International Environment Day.

The ministry said Thursday that the hotline, 010-12369, will take calls about emergency environment issues, cross-provincial pollution and other environmental issues that should be directly dealt with by the ministry.
A nice little green hop, I'd say (to borrow an expression from the Green Leap Forward).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

unprecedented internet censorship within china

Yesterday, the buzz among netizens was the blocking of foreign-language social networking and media sites, including Flickr and Twitter, in addition to existing blocks on Youtube and Blogspot. Hotmail and are also down.

Today, the net nanny turned to domestic Chinese sites, harmonizing a host of participatory Web 2.0 - blogging / microblogging / content generation / sharing, etc. - sites like Fanfou and Bullog.

However, unlike traditional blocks, in which trying to access a censored website simply yields a "failed to connect" or "connection interrupted" error message, these blocks are taking a different and new form: individual "maintenance" notices placed on the home page of each site. Each site's maintenance period has a definitive end point, unsurprisingly either June 5th or June 6th. Here is an example from Fanfou:

It seems some netizens have created a public spreadsheet tracking sites "under maintenance" (Chinese only), including the maintenance period dates for each site. It has been fascinating, frustrating, and depressing to watch the list grow in real time over the last hour or so. It will be even more fascinating to track Chinese reactions over the next couple of days.

At least one blogger is calling June 2nd GFW day (h/t Global Voices); in symbolism of being blocked I've changed the background of this blog to black. I'll revert back to white when and if blogspot is released within China.

new report shows widespread air quality data manipulation

Last fall, I wrote about Steven Andrews' report demonstrating data biasing in Beijing's air quality reporting.

The China Environment Forum has just published a second peer-reviewed report written by Mr. Andrews, this one detailing on a much larger scale the data manipulation present in air quality reporting across all of China. Mr. Andrews' overall conclusion is as follows:
Publicizing the API and where cities rank in terms of air quality keeps the public informed of air quality and potential health threats. However, misleading data presentation and revised laws have prevented the API system from accurately communicating air quality problems to the public.
Mr. Andrews' report focuses on several points, including:

1) SEPA's loosening of ambient air quality standards in 2000 artificially inflated the number of cities in compliance:
In 2006, the annual average NO2 concentration in Beijing was 66μg/m3 and in Guangzhou it was 67μg/m3 (BJEPB, 2007; GZEPB, 2007). Under the 1996 standards, Beijing and Guangzhou would have exceeded the annual average NO2 standard in 2006 by 65 percent and 67 percent, respectively. Under the revised standards, both were in compliance (SEPA, 2000).
(Note: link to old standards here; link to new standards here; discussion and comparison to international standards here.)

2) The assignment of 100 as the cut-off point for a "Blue Sky Day," coupled with rising pressure for cities to meet increasing numbers of annual Blue Sky Days, has encouraged the "bumping" of API data just above 100 to just below. Mr. Andrews writes:
Although the establishment of “Blue Sky” targets and well-publicized tallies of the number of days meeting the national standard has resulted in an easily understood metric for air quality, it strongly appears that pollution levels near this boundary are being manipulated in many major cities.
This was one of his core findings in his previous report on Beijing alone. In this report, Mr. Andrews expands the analysis to many more Chinese cities. The table below shows 30 cities which reported above 90% of all API values within the range 96-105 as 100 or below in a given year. (Statistically, one would expect around 50% of data points in this range to be on either side of 100.)3) The moving of monitoring stations within cities has artificially inflated air quality:
Although there has been a reported 10.8 percent decrease in Beijing’s annual average NO2 level between 1998 and 2006, the two stations in traffic areas have reported annual average NOx concentrations 100 percent higher than the non-traffic stations (BJEPB, 1998). This indicates that all the reported decrease in NO2 concentrations in Beijing from 1998-2006 may be due to the changing locations of monitoring stations.
4) Although not one of Mr. Andrews' key conclusions, one of his smaller but fascinating findings is that, apparently, there was a mistake in the English-language version of MEP's website regarding how to calculate API. This is something I never realized, but has apparently wreaked some havoc in international data analyses of air quality in China:
Although the calculation methodologies to go from API values to pollutant concentrations are straightforward, an error in the sample calculation on the MEP website has lead to misunderstandings of the true severity of pollution levels—inaccuracies that have been replicated in several leading reports on air pollution in China.
It seems that MEP has since removed the English explanation of API calculation, so I'm not sure what this error was; I'll keep digging and see if I can find out more.


Similar to Mr. Andrews' September 2008 report, this report is a scathing indictment and well-supported criticism of MEP's air quality data quality and transparency. It highlights a number of issues that MEP - as well as city and provincial-level EPBs - should ideally work quickly to resolve in order to regain international trust and credibility.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

twitter and flickr blocked

56minus1 reports that Twitter and Flickr are both blocked now in mainland China. Youtube and Blogspot (including this blog) remain blocked as well.

FYI, Herdict is a site that allows for user-reported web censorship across the globe; the China page is here.

Update 6/3/09: The New York Times is now reporting on the increased censorship:
BEIJING — China’s government censors have begun to block access to the Internet services Twitter, Hotmail and Microsoft's, broadening an already extraordinary effort to shield its citizens from any hint of Thursday's 20th anniversary of the military crackdown that ended the 1989 T i a n a n m e n Square pro-democracy movement.

shanzhai euro V

This is one of those "only in China" stories.

In my last post, I mentioned how surprised I was to see an "欧V" label on the back of a tour bus in Beijing:

欧V universally means Euro V tailpipe emission standard; the strong implication here is that this vehicle meets that very strict standard. Similarly, here is a label on a (different brand) bus showing that it meets Euro IV (欧IV, the current standard in Beijing) emission standard:

However, I just learned from my colleague that the "欧V" label on the white bus does not have anything to do with tailpipe emission standard. Rather, the bus model is simply called 欧V, with the V meaning the letter "V," not the roman numeral for 5. The website for the bus, made by Foton, is here. In English they call it model AUV:

Although it appears that the bus is available in some alternative energy configurations like hybrid - which is commendable for many reasons - even the hybrid apparently only meets the Euro IV tailpipe emission standard: 污染物排放再[sic]欧III基础上减少30%,达到欧IV同等水平 (pollutant emissions are 30% lower than the Euro III level, meeting Euro IV equivalent).

Hmm. A bus called 欧V than only meets the 欧IV emission standard? Sounds like shanzhai to me.

Monday, June 1, 2009

vehicle environmental labeling

This post is about vehicle environmental labeling in China.

Mandatory Tailpipe Emissions Labeling

There is currently no national environmental labeling program based on tailpipe emissions (although MEP has proposed one that will hopefully be issued sometime this year).

However, many cities in China require their own vehicle environmental label, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Qingdao, Nanjing, and more.

In Beijing specifically, environmental labeling by tailpipe emission standard has been required since, I believe, 1999. The latest formal document about the label is this one from 2004: 北京市环境保护局关于启用新版机动车环保标志的通知 ("Beijing EPB notice on use of new version of vehicle environmental label").

This document specifies that green labels are given to gasoline vehicles meeting Euro I or higher and diesel vehicles meeting Euro III or higher tailpipe emission standard. It's unusual that the document uses the Euro (欧) nomenclature as opposed to the standard China (国) term used in other tailpipe emission standards; I'm not sure why.

Although I couldn't find a formal document specifying this, I also know that gasoline vehicles are further differentiated by stars, with one star for China I, two stars for China II and China III w/o OBD, three stars for China III w/OBD, and four stars for China IV. There is no star differentiation for diesel vehicles. Here's an example:

Beijing environmental label (green). The four stars indicate that this gasoline vehicle meets the China IV emission standard.

In the States, I know that California has a smog label, but I'm not sure of anywhere else that in the United States that requires environmental labeling for anything other than fuel economy.

Voluntary Tailpipe Emissions Labeling

In addition to the mandatory tailpipe emissions label, I am also surprised and fascinated by how many voluntary, manufacturer-suppled tailpipe emission standard labels I come across in China. I can't think of anything comparable in the States; a vehicle's tailpipe emission standard there just doesn't seem to be a selling point or something to boast about with a fancy label. Here are some examples I've seen in China:

Euro III (欧III) back window label on a small gasoline van.

China III (国III) + OBD (on-board diagnostics) back window label on a small gasoline van.

EuroIV (欧IV) label on the back of a diesel public bus.

Euro IV (欧IV) back window label on a small gasoline van.

Euro V (欧V) label on a diesel tour bus. This was very surprising to me.
Update 6/2/09: Apparently this bus model is simply called 欧V, with the V being a letter, not intended to be the roman number for 5. More info in a follow up post here.

The same "Euro V" bus gets zero stars on the city label because the diesel labels have no star differentiation.

Mandatory Fuel Economy Labeling

According to GB22757-2008, cars in China will be required to display fuel economy labels beginning 7/1/2009. I will try to post a lengthier post once it goes into force. In the meantime, here is what the label will look like:

For comparison, here is the current United States fuel economy label:

platinum LEED habitat houses in portland

Although this post is off-topic for this blog, I wanted to feature a cool story about what are expected to be the first two platinum LEED certified Habitat for Humanity houses in Oregon.

Forty percent more efficient than houses built to code, the homes are on target to achieve platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council -- the highest rating available. They will be the first LEED platinum Habitat homes in Oregon and two of only a handful nationally.
I feature the project here for a couple of reasons. First, it's an incredibly impressive story demonstrating how committed individuals, with the support of the community, can create something that is simultaneously sustainable, accessible, and elegant.

Second, and more importantly for me personally, the house was designed by one of my best friends, architect Scott Mooney.
The homes grew out of a design contest for young architects just out of university...The challenge: Design a LEED-certified duplex on a lot owned by Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East.

Scott Mooney and David Posada jumped at the opportunity.

The two friends had graduated from the University of Oregon's master's degree program in 2005 and are building careers -- Mooney at THA Architecture and Posada at GBD Architects -- with strong emphasis on sustainability and affordability.

"Basically, David and I are interested in accessible design, something anyone can do," Mooney said. "The danger of a competition is they're very creative but often not very realistic.

"We tried to keep it feasible."

The two won the contest. But more exciting to them, the nonprofit wanted to build their design.
Way to go, Smooney!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

reports repository

One of the nice things about having a blog is that it becomes a reference for yourself - a repository of information and links that previously were scattered about in a disorganized series of e-mails, files, folders, draft documents, etc.

To help with organization, I'm creating this post as a repository of reports that fall into one of the following categories: a) I often reference it; b) I often want to send the link to someone else; c) it's on my list / pile to be read. Whichever the category, I think maintaining an occasionally-updated post (in the spirit of my previous post, "List of Chinese Energy and Environmental Standards for Vehicles") will be useful to me, and I hope to you as well. Please feel free to suggest links to add here!

The reports will be divided loosely by category. Most, but not all, are related directly to China and/or transportation.

Climate Change
6/2009: March 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference synthesis report (h/t RealClimate)

5/2009: Greenpeace - America's Share of the Climate Crisis

3/2009: Sweden - A Balancing Act: China’s Role in Climate Change

1/2009: MIT - Probabilistic Forecast for 21st Century Climate Based on Uncertainties in Emissions (without Policy) and Climate Parameters

1/2009: Asia Society - Common Challenge, Collaborative Response: A Roadmap for US-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Change

1/2009: Brookings - Overcoming Obstacles to U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change

6/2008: McKinsey - The carbon productivity challenge: Curbing climate change and sustaining economic growth

12/2007: IPCC - Fourth Assessment Report

Fuel Economy
3/2009: Harvard ETIP: China's Fuel Economy Standards for Passenger Vehicles

2/2008: CATARC - Analysis of Implementation Results of the Standard "Limits of Fuel Consumption for Passenger Cars"

7/2007: The ICCT - Passenger Vehicle Greenhouse Gas and Fuel Economy Standards: A Global Update; also updated data here

Vehicle Population and Emissions Projections
12/2006: Wang et al - Projection of Chinese Motor Vehicle Growth, Oil Demand, and CO2 Emissions Through 2050 (full text not available online)

12/2005: Schipper and Ng - Growing in the Greenhouse Chapter 4 - China Motorization Trends: Policy Options in a World of Transport Challenges

8/2005: He et al - Oil consumption and CO2 emissions in China's road transport: current status, future trends, and policy implications (full text not available online)

Air Quality
5/2009: Steven Q. Andrews - Seeing Through the Smog: Understanding the Limits of Chinese Air Pollution Reporting

9/2008: Steven Q. Andrews - Inconsistencies in air quality metrics: 'Blue Sky' days and PM10 concentrations in Beijing

2007: Streets et al - Air quality during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

Life Cycle Analysis and Electric Cars / Bikes
12/2008: McKinsey - China Charges Up: The Electric Vehicle Opportunity

11/2008: MDB - The Green Car Report: Investment Analysis of the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Industry - Outlook for 2009-2012

7/2008: MIT - On the Road in 2035: Reducing Transportation's Petroleum Consumption and GHG Emissions

2007: California's Low Carbon Fuel Standards supporting reports.

General Transportation
5/2008: IFEU - Transport in China: Energy Consumption and Emissions of Different Transport Modes

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

state council announces new diesel fuel quality standards

Yesterday, China's State Council announced the "Petrochemical Industry Restructuring and Revitalization Plan" (Chinese only) which mandates nationwide China III quality gasoline fuel by 2009 and nationwide China III diesel fuel by 2010 (2009年车用汽油全部达到国Ⅲ标准,2010年车用柴油全部达到国Ⅲ标准). The announcement also says that any fuels not meeting these standards may not be sold into the marketplace (严格执行油品质量标准,严禁达不到国家规定标准的油品进入市场) after the implementation dates.

As far as I can tell, for gasoline fuels, this announcement merely confirms existing standards and implementation dates. However, for diesel fuel, this is a big deal, due to implications on the timeline for improving diesel fuel quality.

The specific issue I'm referencing here is fuel sulfur content. Lowering fuel sulfur content is critical for reducing vehicle emissions and allowing implementation of advanced vehicle emission control technologies. (Sorry I don't have time to write more on this right now; some background in this post.)

The China III fuel quality targets for sulfur content are 150ppm for gasoline and 350ppm for diesel. Although the timeline for reducing gasoline sulfur content to 150ppm has been fixed for some time (by GB17930-2006), there was, until now, no confirmation of the timeline for reducing nationwide diesel sulfur content to 350ppm. As such, this represents a concrete and important step towards the desulfurization of China's motor fuel.

More analysis / commentary to come, and a link to the final standard when it is formally released (as opposed to just being announced by the State Council). For those of you who want to keep track at home, I've recently discovered that you can search planned and upcoming standards on SAC's home page, by clicking on the 国家标准计划查询 link. In this case, searching for 车用柴油 will show you standard plan 20075424-T-469, which is in the 报批阶段, or final draft for approval, stage.

Lastly, here's a table, as far as I understand the current situation, showing nationwide fuel sulfur content in China:

Friday, May 15, 2009

all blogger blogs blocked in china

Update 5/18/09: After hearing two positive recommendations from individuals I trust, I've invested $40 for a year of Witopia private VPN. So I'm now able to read and post to my blog like normal, as well as access all sorts of other sensitive content (including news and video) during a time in which, apparently, China will consistently ratchet up its internet censorship.

Of course, me having access is nice for me, but does nothing to address the greater issue of working towards greater information and media transparency here within China (including the issue of how to make the content of this blog available to people without VPNs or proxies). But this is a topic for another time.

All blogger-based blogs (e.g. everything that ends in are currently blocked in China. This includes this blog. I'm posting this using the Tor proxy.

Also, Youtube has been blocked for perhaps a month or more.

My guess is - assuming they are lifted at all - that these blocks will not be lifted until after a certain sensitive date early next month.

Until then, I will post as I can and try to stay connected. I need to upgrade my circumvention methodology...I've been using Tor off and on for a couple of years but it seems to get slower and slower. Even now I have very limited functionality because the entire page isn't loading. In any case, if anyone has any advice on reliable and preferably free ways to get around the GFW, I'd appreciate it if you would contact me.

China can be a very frustrating place. To any of you out there who are reading this in a country that doesn't unpredictably and deliberately stifle the free flow of ideas because of a constitutionally-guaranteed (and court-supported) right to free speech, I invite you to pause for a moment to appreciate that.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

april 2009 was beijing's cleanest april in 10 years

I'm a couple of weeks late on this (still playing catch up), but I thought this recent story was worth noting.

On May 2nd, China Daily reported that "Beijing has 'cleanest month' in 9 years," writing, "the city experienced its best month of air quality since 2000 with 23 blue-sky days in April."

The excellent blog Daily Dose of Air Pollution highlighted that this claim is dubious, noting at least three other months (August and September, 2008, and August 2006) in which Beijing had higher numbers of Blue Sky Days and lower average APIs than April 2009.

I think I've identified the source of confusion. The official Beijing EPB announcement (Chinese), titled 4月本市空气质量创2000年以来同期最好水平, states specifically that April 2009 was the best April since 2000, not the best month overall. It seems the China Daily (or the Beijing EPB spokesperson during the press conference) misrepresented the real announcement.

Two follow up points:

1) While acknowledging progress, we should also simultaneously not get too excited over the "clean" air. The Beijing EPB claims that the average PM concentration during this month was 120 ug/m3 (主要污染物可吸入颗粒物月均浓度为每立方米0.12 毫克), which is still well above China's national air quality target (100 ug/m3) and six times higher than the WHO recommended guideline (20 ug/m3). (Comparison of international standards in this post.) Although it is critically important in China to note progress, we must not wrap ourselves so much in cheers of success that we become blinded to the significant challenges and work still ahead.

2) The China Daily article describes in more detail than I have ever seen how the economic slowdown may have contributed to improved air quality, writing:
Besides strict environmental protection measures, experts think the global economic slowdown might be playing a positive role in environmental protection.

Zhu Tong, an environment professor with Peking University, told China Daily on Friday that heavy industry has decreased production in many polluting factories, which benefits the air.

"Most companies in heavy industry are seeing fewer orders. The output of the Shougang Group this year so far equals the same period during the Olympics," said Wang Dawei, head of the air quality control division of the Beijing municipal environmental protection bureau.

In the first season this year, the added value for ferrous metal and chemistry manufacturing in the capital was 3.36 billion yuan ($490 million) and 1.85 billion yuan, a year-on-year decrease of 18.1 percent and 17.9 percent respectively.

If the improved air quality is indeed due to the slowdown, then this means there is even less cause for celebration.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

a few electric vehicle reports and links

Electric vehicles are quickly taking the spotlight here in China, with the recently announced subsidies for new energy vehicles and government plans for electric vehicle industry development, followed by the Shanghai auto show, prompting a flurry of media articles from both within China and abroad.

I'll be posting more in the next days and weeks what I think of these developments, but to start with I want to link to some relevant analyses that may be of interest to other researchers out there.

First of all, here is the McKinsey report that is referenced by both recent NYTimes and Guardian pieces:

McKinsey - China Charges Up: The Electric Vehicle Opportunity

For non-China-specific life cycle impacts analysis of different vehicle energy technologies, nothing beats this MIT report:

MIT - On the Road in 2035: Reducing Transportation's Petroleum Consumption and GHG Emissions

California also has similar, relevant reports on their Low Carbon Fuel Standards page.

Lastly, I haven't read it all yet, but someone recently forwarded me this seemingly quite comprehensive Green Car market analysis report from consulting firm MDB:

MDB - The Green Car Report: Investment Analysis of the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Industry - Outlook for 2009-2012

I will be making follow up posts with key conclusions and take-away messages from these reports, but for now I just wanted to get them out there.


new recommended blog - china car times green

Greetings! I'm finally back and settled in Beijing after traveling for much of the past month (hence the lack of posting). I was in the States for two weeks of conferences / meetings and then spent a week on vacation in Taiwan with my visiting parents.

I am slowly catching up on news and blogging. To start with, I want to pass along an excellent new blog from the folks at China Car Times:

The blog features frequent, excellent posts on China's alternative energy vehicle industry developments.

Friday, April 10, 2009

slides from my talk wednesday night

The other night I had a great time presenting at the Beijing Energy Network's wonderfully titled BEER (Beijing Energy & Environment Roundtable) event. The title of my talk was "150 Million and Counting... Controlling the Energy and Environmental Impacts of China's Vehicles." I tried to have fun with it - I presented it at 9pm at a bar, after all - while touching on a range of topics and issues related to the transportation sector in China.

Although I fear the slides may seem a little too bare-bones without the context of my accompanying speech, I did get enough requests to distribute that I figured I might as well put them online:

I welcome any questions or comments either here or by e-mail at livefrombeijing at gmail dot com.

Lastly, apologies for the light posting recently; I have been slammed at work in preparation for a trip to the States this weekend. I'll be gone for two weeks and will post while there if time permits, but no promises...

Friday, April 3, 2009

china's push to be electric vehicle leader

Interesting article yesterday at the top of the New York Times home page - China Vies to Be World's Leader in Electric Cars:
TIANJIN, China — Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.
While it's nice to see China's electric vehicle push making headlines internationally, the article as a whole leaves me a little confused and disappointed. Although much of the article is solid reporting, at times it adopts a strangely negative and sometimes contradictory tone. For example, the author, Keith Bradsher, writes (emphasis mine):
China’s intention, in addition to creating a world-leading industry that will produce jobs and exports, is to reduce urban pollution and decrease its dependence on oil...But electric vehicles may do little to clear the country’s smog-darkened sky or curb its rapidly rising emissions of global warming gases. China gets three-fourths of its electricity from coal, which produces more soot and more greenhouse gases than other fuels.
However, this "may do little" claim is supported by the following paragraph, which directly contradicts it:
A report by McKinsey & Company last autumn estimated that replacing a gasoline-powered car with a similar-size electric car in China would reduce greenhouse emissions by only 19 percent. It would reduce urban pollution, however, by shifting the source of smog from car exhaust pipes to power plants, which are often located outside cities.
"Only" 19% is not a "little." Plus, this number will almost certainly grow as China's power sector improves efficiency and diversifies away from coal. As for pollution, the McKinsey study supports the exact goal of the Chinese government - reducing urban air pollution. Why then, does Mr. Bradsher nay say the environmental impacts of electrifying the vehicle fleet?

Moving on, Mr. Bradsher accurately describes some of the details of the program, and makes some key points about why electric vehicles may be viable in China whereas they have struggled in America:
Electric cars have several practical advantages in China. Intercity driving is rare. Commutes are fairly short and frequently at low speeds because of traffic jams. So the limitations of all-electric cars — the latest models in China have a top speed of 60 miles an hour and a range of 120 miles between charges — are less of a problem.

First-time car buyers also make up four-fifths of the Chinese market, and these buyers have not yet grown accustomed to the greater power and range of gasoline-powered cars.
(That final sentence is key, and something I'll make a note to blog on another time.)

In the final part of the article, Mr. Bradsher mentions that "rechargeable lithium-ion batteries also have a poor reputation in China," but then goes on to say, "these safety problems have been associated with lithium-ion cobalt batteries, however, not the more chemically stable lithium-ion phosphate batteries now being adapted to automotive use." Then why does he bring it up? Is there some evidence that Chinese consumers are reluctant to buy electric vehicles because of battery safety? If there is, he doesn't mention it.

In the end, I'm just not sure what to make of the article. The overall tone seems to be some combination of "lookout America, China is going to leap frog you in this promising clean tech area" and "but don't worry too much, even if they do succeed (which they might not), the impacts on GHG and air pollution reduction won't be that big."

From the perspectives of reducing oil consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution, I think almost everyone agrees that electrifying the vehicle fleet is a good thing. So good that many (including myself) see the electrification of the transportation sector as a core sustainability solution. I need to make time to prepare a longer post on this, but for now, see Joe Romm's post: Plug-in hybrids and electric cars — a core climate solution, nationally and globally.

Related news from yesterday:
- China Car Times reports that Shenzhen will become the first city to offer subsidies to private buyers, though I haven't yet found the original source material to support this.
- NEEDigest's excellent auto zone has a great comparison of companies racing to offer EV's to the Chinese market.

Related post from this blog: subsidies for energy saving and new energy vehicles

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

summary of beijing's 2009 first quarter air quality

Yesterday, Xinhua reported that Beijing achieved above an 80% "blue sky" rate in the first half of this year:
BEIJING, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Beijing saw 73 "blue sky days", 81.1 percent of the total, in the first three months of 2009, Beijing authorities said here on Tuesday.

The city experienced six more blue sky days than in the first quarter of last year, and 24.3 days more than the average of the last decade, said an official of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

Experts at the bureau said active cold airflows had helped particulate matter to disperse.

Efforts to reduce pollution from heating systems had paid off with January having the most blue sky days since 2000, said the official.
For those who prefer original sources, here is the notice from the Beijing EPB (in Chinese).

Let's take a closer look at the data and examine what this means in terms of air quality.

First of all, as a quick introduction for new readers, China defines "Blue Sky Days" as days for which the Air Pollution Index (API) is 100 or below. For a detailed description of exactly what the API is, see this post. Past Beijing API data may be queried from MEP's datacenter, but unfortunately only in Chinese.

For this post, I queried the data for 1/1/09 to 3/31/09, and ran some quick analyses to see what interesting things I could find.

Part 1: Checking Beijing's EPB's Numbers

The Beijing EPB claims "截至3月31日,今年累计73个达标天,占监测天数的81.1%。其中一级7天,二级66天,三级15天,四级1天,五级1天。" The second sentence says that in this time period there were 7 days of Grade 1 (API 0-50) air, 66 days of Grade 2 (API 51-100) air, 15 days of Grade 3 (API 101-200) air, and 1 day each at Grade 4 (API 201-300) and Grade 5 (API 301+).

However, by my count, there were 8 days of Grade 1 (one more than reported) 64 days of Grade 2 (two less than reported), then 15, 1, and 1 days of Grades 3, 4, and 5, respectively (identical to that reported). It seems pretty basic to me that you would want your publicly reported data summary to match your public database, so I can't imagine what's going on here. This is especially true because, in this case, the data indicates Beijing did better than they claimed.

The data for one day, 2/19/09, is missing from the database. If we assume that 2/19 was a Blue Sky Day, though, then at least we do indeed have 73 Blue Sky Days for the quarter.

Part 2: Converting to Pollutant Concentrations

Because API is a unitless index, in order to evaluate air quality we have to convert back to pollutant concentrations. This is a bit tricky, because the API is only reported according to whichever pollutant had the highest daily concentration, meaning that we do not have daily raw data for every pollutant. Still, we can make a rough approximation by assuming that PM10 is the limiting pollutant on all days. (Of the 89 data points, 72 (81%) were reported with PM10 highest, 9 were reported with SO2 highest, while 8 had no pollutant data because no pollutants are listed for Grade 1 air quality days.)

In any case, given the above assumption, this graph shows calculated daily PM10 concentrations for this quarter:

These data yield a quarterly average PM10 concentration of 124 ug/m^3. This is very similar to what I calculated as last year's annual average.

124 ug/m^3 is still well above China's annual target (100 ug/m^3) and well well above the WHO's ideal target for developed nations (20 ug/m^3).


For those of you following along at home, here is an Excel formula for converting API to PM10 concentration (in this example, the API would be in cell E9):


This is based on equations presented at the bottom of this post.