Experts lauded measures and efforts to improve air pollution in Beijing, as the city meets its air quality standards ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics. 

The Chinese capital Beijing has met state air quality standards for the first time in 2020, according to officials, hitting the goal almost a decade earlier than expected. 

The severe air pollution in Beijing has plagued its residents for decades following China’s economic boom since 1979, which saw a barrage of coal-burning factories developed across the country. The government finally set out a plan to combat air pollution in 2014 after a series of hazardous smog built up in Beijing and other Chinese cities, sparking widespread public outrage. 

Under the governmental plan, the country took stringent measures to reduce national coal consumption, emissions from transportation such as private vehicles and trucks (as well as encouraging the switch to electric vehicles), and relocate polluting heavy industries. Homeowners were also given subsidies to swap out their coal-fired boilers to cleaner gas-fired ones for winter heating. According to the UN Environment Programme, levels of particulate pollution in Beijing between 2013 and 2017 fell by 35% and by 25% in its surrounding regions. 

“The improvements are real…and happening across the industrial belt surrounding Beijing, as well as in much of the rest of the country,” lead analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air Lauri Myllyvirta said to Reuters. But warns pollution remains high enough to “constitute an ongoing health risk for residents”.

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Persistent exposure to air pollution poses a high risk of chronic and often terminal health issues including heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and lower respiratory infections. According to Our World in Data, air pollution is linked to 5 million deaths every year. 

Beijing is now averaging about 33 micrograms of particulate pollution per cubic metre annually, a 13% drop compared to the prior year and falling below the government’s goal of 35 micrograms for the first time. But this air quality far exceeds the 5 micrograms standard recommended by the World Health Organization.

But Beijing has set an example on how reducing air pollution is “doable” and “makes perfect economic sense”, according to Myllyvirta. Other countries and cities can replicate similar results, though their decision-making systems and pollution sources may vary. 

As the city prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will take place in February, efforts to cut down air pollution will likely accelerate. Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised to host a “green” games and power all 26 Olympic venues entirely by renewable energy.