Pollution Update : Air measurement alone won’t fix Beijing’s air

English: Smokestacks from a wartime production...

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From China Global Times Forum 

The last couple of months have seen a fierce debate over whether the Beijing municipal authorities should publish the measurements of PM2.5, tiny and dangerous particulates that make up the majority of modern air pollution, instead of just the larger PM10 particulates. One direct result of this has been that the government has promised to double its efforts on mitigating emissions while increasing public awareness of environmental protection.

Will Beijing adopt the new measurement for air pollutant? Considering that authorities had already been switched from the indulgent Total Suspended Particulate standard to the sterner PM10 in the early years, it is certain that they will monitor and disclose PM2.5 results or even results measured by the strictest PM1 standard sooner or later. However, these changes will only occur gradually in accordance with our development and progress in air pollution prevention, rather than being ”inspired” by the US embassy’s often-retweeted measurements.

On the other hand, a feature of public participation in policymaking now is that the public often sets up its schedule for the government to follow rather than waiting for authorities to honor its commitments.

Since the public is now urging the adoption of the PM2.5 standard, and the sterner measurement does better reflect the air quality level, the government should be flexible and adjust its time frame to cope with public demands, putting the PM2.5 issue on top of its to-do list and getting ready to monitor and disclose the data while setting up the prevention strategy compatible with the new standard.

Yet prevention is another tough task. We have been telling people that our air pollution is severe and we have poured huge efforts into reversing the trend, but situation remains fragile. Beijing’s air has never been up to scratch. In the whole of 2011, only 78.6 percent of days saw the air quality meeting even the fairly generous standards set by the municipal authorities.

Anybody who looks at the sky knows the reality of Beijing’s smog. Anyone who flies into the city can see the descent from blue skies above the clouds to a metropolis covered by dirt. At that time, it doesn’t matter how you measure it, all that matters is how it can get better.

Ordinary people don’t care what measurements are used. They care about whether economic development can return blue skies to us, as happened decades ago in the developed countries.

To have our blue sky back means we must stop reckless emission of pollutants to our atmosphere.

The four major pollutant sources are coal burning, vehicle exhaust, construction sites and factories. And although PM2.5 is widely regarded as a more accurate measurement than PM10, they both monitor pollutants from the same sources.

We must decrease the environment impact from the 2,500-3,000 tons of coal used daily in Beijing, not to mention the 5 million cars and the activities of 20 million people. Better air won’t be solely achieved by better measurement. It can only happen by environmental protection and pollution mitigation.

Thus, we need to reach out to the public, to communicate and interact with them, so that we will learn what their demands are and be able to design policies that will turn their anger into passion. Otherwise, no matter what air quality measurement we use, our air quality will stay the same.

But as an environment supervisor, I am happy to see the public debate about PM 2.5. It indicates that the public is starting to care about the environment and understand its importance. The heated debate reflects the power of public participation and may herald a spring for environmental protection in China.

The author is vice director of  the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Source : http://www.globaltimes.cn/NEWS/tabid/99/ID/692559/Air-measurement-alone-wont-fix-Beijings-pollution.aspx

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