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2008 Dec 1 Beijing Reaches Blue Sky Target for 2008

Yesterday noon, Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the city's Ministry of Environmental Protection, announced that as of Nov 30, the city had reached its "blue sky" target for 2008. While we can quibble about what a "blue sky day" actually is - or even whether the official statistics have been fudged - any one who's been in Beijing during the post-Olympic period, knows that it's been a particularly pleasant autumn. By the end of November the city had recorded 256 "blue sky" days. Compare this to 1998 when the city could only achieve 100 days when the API fell below 100.

However, despite the introduction of less-severe traffic restrictions, December is probably not going to be a great month for blue skies. December is normally the worst time for Beijing's air quality, with Danwei reporting the index hitting 500 back in 2006 and in 2007 the index hit 421 in late December and then peaked at 500 a few days after Christmas.

Links and Sources
Xinhua: Beijing fulfils "blue sky" day goal one month in advance
Qianlong: 256个蓝天提前一月完成 空气质量10年持续改善
The New Republic:
Is Beijing Fudging Its Pollution Numbers?
Beijing Air blogWelcome semi-permanent traffic restrictions
NYTimes: Beijing’s Olympic Quest: Turn Smoggy Sky Blue (image)
The Beijinger: Blue Skies
The Beijinger: Emergency Air Quality Measures
The Beijinger: City announces new measures to ensure "blue skies" during Olympics
The Beijinger: View from the Top: Beijing's Highest Bar

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Image courtesy of coeurdelion

The above image was taken this morning from Landmark Towers on the North East corner of the Third Ring Road. In another sign of how grim things are, the Firefox plug-in that flashes weather updates on our desktop currently reads blowing dust.

Yesterday, the Beijing government announced new measures to ensure the quality of the air in the capital during both the Olympic and Para-Olympic games. The strict rules have been introduced to ensure that Beijing meets the air quality standards that the city committed itself to when competing to get the games. The new regulations call for a halt to all digging and pouring of concrete at the city's many construction sites from July 20 through to September 20. Aside from construction sites, cement manufacturers and concrete mixing plants will also be forced to close up shop. Some of the city's 1,000 gas stations will also be closed.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the city's Environmental Protection Bureau, also said that if the air pollution exceeds the standards they have set, authorities are prepared to introduce even stricter measures. He also mentioned that neighboring provinces including Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Shandong are also introducing similar measures. In addition to all these measures, authorities also plan to encourage Beijng's citizens to adopt "greener" lifestyle habits.

Asked by a reporter from the Beijing News about the effects of the ban, especially on workers in the construction industry, and the possibility of financial assistance, the deputy director replied that orders to stop production are only aimed at a small minority of heavily polluting industries and that other industries are simply being asked to improve the implementation of pollution control measures. In regard to the question of what will happen to all the construction workers, he replied that everything has already been arranged and there will be no problems.

What local media are calling the worst of the three major sandstorms to hit the capital this spring, rolled into town on Tuesday. A lot of the sand and dust must have lingered in the air as the Ministry of Environmental Protection reported that pollution in the capital reached an eye-irritating 408 yesterday. The picture (left) was taken from Dongzhimen, but seems to indicate that the storm was not as severe as the one that hit on Mar 17 as can be seen by comparing it with the first image below that was taken by a Beijinger forum user and this video captured by Reuters. The 408 reading is likely to be the highest since the index first hit 421 and then peaked at 500 a few days after Christmas last year. December seems to be the worst time for Beijing's air quality, with Danwei reporting the index hitting 500 back in 2006 but it should be noted that the gray soup that appears in December is different from the sandy brown muck that arrives in Spring – see the two images below for a nice comparison of the different tones.

Xinhua reports that Beijing saw 24 blue sky days in January, two more than in January 2008, and the highest number of blue sky days in January since recording began 10 years ago. For an idea of what that actually means in terms of what the sky actually looked like, click through to the Asia Society's great Room With a View photo diary which tracks the air quality in Beijing with photos taken from the same room everyday. Also, good news for those who didn't enjoy the pre-Spring Festival maximums of -7, according to local media, Beijing is likely to experience maximums of 10 degrees as early as next weekend.

The rain that finally broke Beijing's 110-day dry spell fell harder and longer than it would have, thanks to the local government adopting cloud-seeding and other artificial precipitation measures. Given the favorable conditions (the meteorological bureau was predicting light rain) the local government decided to launch a land and air offensive on Feb 12 to try increase the amount of rain that would fall over Beijing. According to a report placed on the meteorological bureau's website, one plane from the Chinese air force was called into offer air support to 7 ground teams who blasted 49 rockets into the low lying clouds and another 31 teams who were busy burning 875 sticks of Silver iodide atop various mountains around suburban and rural Beijing.