The current situation of China’s air quality is quite concerning: Less than 1% of China’s 500 cities have reached the air quality standard recommended by the World Health Organization. Among the 10 most polluted cities in the world, China has seven.
In Jan 2013, only five days were not occupied by haze and fog. In Oct 2014, the air quality index in Beijing reached a peak of 470, far beyond the severe pollution level of 300; meanwhile, the situation was even more serious in the neighboring province of Hebei, whose PM2.5 particles climbed above 500 micrograms per cubic meter—northern China was blanketed by the heavy air pollution, forcing the Chinese authorities to raise its pollution alert from yellow to orange, which was the second highest.
(The recommended exposure according to the WHO is 25. PM2.5 particles lodge deep inside the lungs and are considered the most dangerous kind of air pollution to human health)
APEC is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, a regional economic forum established in 1989 to leverage the growing interdependence of the Asia-Pacific region.
The APEC meeting was scheduled to be held in Beijing in November 2014, a city that is seriously polluted by haze and fog. The authorities were in a rush to clear the haze and fog in Beijing for APEC within a month.
During APEC in 2014, a set of comprehensively strict measures on controlling air pollution were carried out.
President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli were directly in charge of the clean-up campaign . Xi and Li issue a set of written instructions while Zhang monitor the anti-smog campaign in the fight of curbing air pollution. In addition, 434,000 cadres in Beijing and nearby provinces and municipalities, including Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, Henan and inner Mongolia, were involved in the inspection work.
The core part of control measures laid on emission reduction. Roughly 10,000 factories in the regions surrounding Beijing were forced to suspend production during APEC, and an additional 39,000 ran on reduced schedules to largely alleviate pollution. Moreover, 60,100 industrial plants and 123,000 other ventures including construction sites and petrol stations are closely inspected.
In Beijing, around 11.7 million vehicles were kept off the roads by a ban on alternative days on cars with even-or-odd numbered license plates.
In addition, in Beijing, 6-days mandatory holidays were brought to state-owned enterprises, local government offices and educational institutions. As a result, real estate trade, marriage registration, food delivery, funerals and hospital appointment system were all influenced and disturbed during APEC.
Statistics showed that the control obtained certain results. According to the data from Beijing municipal environmental monitoring center, from November 1 to 12, the density of PM2.5, PM10, SO2 and NO2 decreased by 55%, 44%, 57% and 31% in the same period last year; the concentrations of various pollutant was at the lowest level over the same period in the past 5 years.
The density of air contaminants in Beijing during November 1 to 12, 2014
However, hours before the summit’s opening ceremony, the air quality in this city still hovered at levels deemed as "unhealthy" by American embassy monitor in Beijing’s air monitoring system. As a result, real estate trade, marriage registration, food delivery, funerals and hospital appointment system were all influenced and disturbed during APEC.
Most foreign media showed a doubtful position for "APEC blue," considering it as a "face-saving" strategy of China’s rulers and holding a suspicious view about its sustainable future. Young Professionals in Foreign Policy claimed that APEC blue "was a piece of the illusion", because "President Xi Jinping used the summit partly as a show to demonstrate that China’s economic development was the linchpin for the entire Asia-Pacific region". In addition, China Current also pointed out that such cleaning sky control might induce more attention on air pollution from foreign media and complaint about air quality from netizens.
Within China, Zhong Nanshan, a deputy of the National People's Congress, said that joint efforts nationwide might cut the time for tackling China’s smog problem to 10 years instead of 30 years suggested by experts.
The employees of controlled factories might lose money because they were forced to take a "vacation" in normal workdays. "With orders and production halted, we’re losing money," Liu Zhenyu, a steel mill worker in Tangshan, said. Some employees seized the opportunity to go traveling, "The number of calls we received inquiring about short-distance overseas trips went up by 50 percent," according to the Beijing Mytour International Travel Service. Additionally, "domestic travel is also in high demand".
As in the northern part of China, Beijing and its surrounding area are freezing cold at night. "The local government turned the state heating network off during unseasonably cold weather, which made the residents enduring a cold few days. "
In order to perform the controls, the economic costs are massive, and all the more significant given recent forecasts of a slowdown for China’s economy. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) & Employment: Figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics and the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing reflected excess capacity and weak demand. It also showed an unfavorable situation in the labor market. (The manufacturing PMI slipped to 50.3 from 50.8 in October, and the employment component eased 0.2 point in November.) Industrial Production: As Credit Suisse estimated, an approximated one-quarter of China’s steel has been affected, 13% of its cement and 3% of its industrial output.
It will also bring with heavy pollution, as the heating system springs into life, regular volumes of traffic return to the roads, and local industry seeks to make up for losses.
Although "APEC blue" lasted for a very short time, it is really a part of accomplishment made by the government, which reflected China’s high attention paid to the issue and the great efforts made to solve it. China Daily reported that APEC blue was listed as one of the top 10 ecological accomplishments of 2014.
On January 1, 2015, China’s new Environmental Protection Law started to be put into force.
On February 13, Zhai Qing, a vice minister for environmental protection, said that China needs to reduce emissions by 30 percent to 50 percent from current levels in order to achieve "APEC blue".
On February 28, 2015 Under the Dome, an independent documentary related to China’s air pollution by famous reporter Chai Jing, was released online, and received more than 100 million cumulative views within 48 hours.
When China's annual Lianghui started on March 3, 2015, coping with the environmental problems was given particular attention. On March 7, China’s new environmental minister Chen Jining attended his first press conference in Lianghui, and vowed stricter legal enforcement for improving pollution.
Suggested policies that emerged from APEC blue include subway expansion to reduce car dependence and to ban barbecuing and straw-burning, encourage an economic transition toward clean fuels to lessen the need of coal and convert waste products into fuel by applying new technologies. In government administration, harsher supervision and enforcement of penalization should be applied.