Air Pollution: Beijing vs. Shanghai

pollutionThe United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has created a pair of fascinating publications which provide revealing information about the environments in both Shanghai and Beijing. Both reports had focused on preparations for their mega-events the Olympics and now the Expo. It’s interesting stuff, and it helped to answer a question I had: which city has cleaner air?

The simplest answer is that Shanghai has cleaner air, because geographically it has local oceans and waters that can rapidly clear the air, while Beijing is similar to Los Angeles in being stuck in a valley surrounded by mountains. Of course, much of the time that Shanghai haze looks just like Beijing’s, but the hard numbers show Shanghai a bit cleaner. For example, China’s widely used “blue sky” index uses the PM10 air particle levels. Using this parameter, Beijing’s levels are about twice as high as Shanghai’s — but both are higher than the WHO recommendations for clean air.


What About Other Pollution?

There are three other pollutants that are monitored by China, including CO, NO2 and SO2. The first is frequently a sign of car pollution, the second from coal burning. Regarding SO2 and NO2, both cities are about the same, and are considered at a good level by China’s standards, but still at levels higher than the WHO recommendations.

These UNEP reports mention that they would like to see China start to monitor other pollutants which can also affect health, such as ozone, PM2.5 as well as volatile organic compounds (VOC).

See The Reports Yourself

The UNEP report on Beijing can be read online as an e-book, and can also be downloaded as a large PDF file. As regards the UNEP’s Shanghai report, you can read their official press release and download the PDF executive statement and full publications here.

If you want to understand more background to this issue, you can read the WHO’s Air Quality And Health FAQ, as well as download their 2005 WHO Air Quality Guidelines, a large PDF file.

Air Quality Reports

The most fun website to monitor air quality is at the Air Quality Monitoring and Forecasting in China website. A simple pull-down menu can take you back and forth between major Chinese cities.

More Resources

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