Deciphering “APEC Blue”: Man-Made Effort or Sent from the Skies?

Deciphering “APEC Blue”: Man-Made Effort or Sent from the Skies?
Nov 18, 2014 Translated by

Editor’s note: “APEC Blue” – a new term that has taken China by storm – is the result of the magnificent, albeit short-term, blue skies adored by all during APEC in Beijing. The term is satirical in nature, alluding to the fact that the pollution-free state of the city is as short-lived as APEC itself, with its overarching purpose merely to show off Beijing’s prettiest face to the world’s leaders.

With skies too blue to be true, Beijingers were already gearing up to a new airpocalypse to smother the city as soon as the last delegation lifted off from Beijing’s ground. However, despite poking fun at their own country’s efforts to create an illusion of a wonderful, clean capital, the “APEC Blue” phenomenon also triggered some serious discussions among the population: how can China ensure “APEC Blue” standard air for the people every day of the year? The article below, translated from, discusses the measures and factors that gave birth to “APEC Blue” and the findings from an official post-APEC Blue report. 

There are two theories behind the existence of the “APEC blue” skies. One view is that the blue skies were from the arrival of the top officials coming to Beijing for the APEC conference. Another view on the matter is that China’s reduction of emissions have contributed to the blue skies. Ma Jun, director of the Environmental Research Center said that even after APEC there is much room for improvement in terms of China’s emissions. The general public seems to agree with Ma.

On November 12, the Beijing municipal government thanked the public and spoke on the success of the APEC meeting. The government thanked the surrounding provinces and urban centers for their energetic support of and positive contributions to the APEC conference. Neighbouring provinces and cities took on a series of high-level emission reductions during APEC.

According to statistics that are at this time still incomplete, from November 4 on, over 17 different cities in Hebei, Tianjin, Shandong, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia implemented policies where odd and even license plate numbers drove on different days. Production was limited at 11,965 polluting enterprises and 20, 603 work sites were shut down.

Did reducing emissions around the city of Beijing help contribute to the “APEC blue” skies? This past April, the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau released a study analyzing the pollution levels in the city over the last year and a half. The report said that, “In terms of Beijing’s PM 2.5 emissions, transport contributed 28 to 36 percent. Local pollution emissions contributed 64 to 72 percent.” It is clear that the reduction of emissions in surrounding cities and the reduction of transport related pollution contributed to Beijing’s “APEC blue.”

Reduction of emissions

As the venue for the APEC meeting, Beijing implemented its strictest pollution control measures in history in order to reduce emissions. The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said in an analysis of the city’s pollution that, “motorized vehicles, coal emissions, and industrial production are the main sources of local pollution. Motorized vehicles account for 31.1 percent of local pollution, coal emissions account for 18.1 percent and industrial production accounts for 14.3 percent of PM 2.5. The other 14.1 of emissions are from pollutants including food production, automobile repair, livestock cultivation, and construction. During APEC, Beijing’s environmental protection department took various measures to reduce emissions. There are different measures to control each source of pollution.

From November 3 to 12, Beijing implemented a policy in which cars with odd and even license plates drive on different days of the week in order to effectively control motor vehicle emissions. Various Beijing institutions were given a holiday from November 7 to 12 which also decreased emissions from traffic. From November 3 to 11, polluting work sites within the administrative area of Beijing were shut down (apart from emergency repair works). Coal-run power plants limited production to the greatest extent possible. 40 percent of the city’s coal-run industries were shut down and outer areas were asked to reduce emissions as well.

Cold air brings clear skies?

All of this work led up to several consecutive days of “APEC blue.” In addition to the reduction of emissions in and around Beijing city, good weather conditions also played an important role in clearing up the skies. According to the National Meteorological Center, a cold front that came in on November 1 helped the fog and haze dissipate in Beijing and improved air quality. From November 3 to November 4, the air quality was stable and pollution stayed low. The pollution index began to rise but an influx of cold air on November 5 improved Beijing’s air quality. On the night of November 7, the air and weather became static and conditions deteriorated. Because of this, the pollution index rose and mild haze was apparent. However, on the morning on the 11th, the city’s haze dissipated again because of cold weather. “It seems that the arrival and dissipation of fog and haze are intrinsically bound to cold weather.”

More than one factor

The National Meteorological Center reports that the cold weather and reduction of emissions may have both contributed to the “APEC blue.” Reducing emissions reduces the formation of pollutants. The cold weather reduces the pollutants’ ability to gather. Cold air and strong winds tend to disperse and dilute pollutants. Therefore, both factors are important in reducing haze.

According to Ma Jun, Beijing’s good air quality during APEC proves that, “At least blue skies are possible. We cannot control the weather but we can control the emission of mad-made pollutants.” “Even after APEC and policies like odd and even license plate controls, long-term plans must be enforced. All levels of government must not interfere with policies from environmental protection departments. There is also a lot of room for improvement among industrial enterprises.” 

“We have fully recognized the seriousness of the problem, and also fully hear the voice of the people. The quality of Beijing’s air cannot rely on luck, but must rely on people,” said Chinese president Xi Jinping while speaking on “APEC blue.”


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Keywords: blue skies Beijing APEC Blue APEC Blue phenomenon


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I like the first theory. The second theory requires thought and work.

Nov 18, 2014 18:13 Report Abuse



"vehicles account for 31.1 percent of local pollution, coal emissions account for 18.1 percent and industrial production accounts for 14.3 percent of PM 2.5. The other 14.1 of emissions". The above numbers don't seem to add up. Maybe someone got it wrong because 31.1 + 18.1 + 14.3 + 14.1 = 77.6. So around 1/4 of the emissions in Beijing seems to be missing from those numbers.

Nov 18, 2014 09:13 Report Abuse