It’s Wednesday, January 6, and the city of Beijing is making headway in its fight against air pollution.

Chinese environmental advocates marked an important milestone on Tuesday as municipal authorities in Beijing announced that the city met national air quality standards in 2021 — the first time the Chinese capital has ever done so.

According to Beijing’s environmental protection bureau, the city’s concentration of the small, airborne particulate matter known as PM 2.5 averaged 33 micrograms per cubic meter last year. That number represents a 13 percent reduction from 2020 levels and is low enough to meet the Chinese government’s interim standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. It’s still much higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended threshold of 5 micrograms per cubic meter, but it’s significant progress: As recently as 2016, the city clocked an average concentration of 71 micrograms per cubic meter.

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Despite evidence that the Chinese government “systemically” underreports air pollution, experts say that the 2021 measurements from Beijing have been independently corroborated.

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“The improvements are real” and “happening across the industrial belt surrounding Beijing, as well as in much of the rest of the country,” Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst for the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, wrote in a blog post.

Beijing attributed its progress to a multi-year crackdown on air pollution, including the introduction of emissions standards for coal-fired power plants and heavy industry. Auto fuel standards and efforts to move away from coal-based heating have also helped clear the air, as have newly-planted trees throughout Beijing and the nearby province of Hebei. Chinese officials have in recent months stepped up efforts to cut air pollution ahead of the Winter Olympics, which will be hosted in and around Beijing in February.

Although experts have lauded Beijing’s “extraordinary progress” on air quality, others have noted that there is more work to be done — not only in Beijing, but throughout the rest of China. “Further improvement will require a shift from coal and oil to clean energy,” Myllyvirta wrote.

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