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How bad is Kunming's air?

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Smoggy Kunming seen from Golden Temple
Smoggy Kunming seen from Golden Temple

Airborne pollution in Kunming appears to be getting worse, but finding reliable data proving this assertion is no easy task. Daily smog readings published by the Kunming Environmental Protection Bureau (KEPB) are regularly half those reported by independent sources, Life newspaper is reporting.

In question are statistics measuring the presence of ultra-fine pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometers. Commonly referred to as PM2.5, these particles are generated both naturally and by human activity. Elevated levels in cities are often associated with the burning of fossil fuels, especially in vehicles and coal-fired power plants.

Kunming monitoring stations on Dongfeng Dong Lu and in Longquan Town report that Kunming's air quality generally has a rating of between 80 and 100. The rating is calculated using the United States Environmental Protection Agency's air quality index (AQI). A score of 51-100 using this metric is termed "moderate" and health risks posed by PM2.5 are considered low.

Independent ratings based on numbers released by Beijing have consistently placed Kunming's AQI between 150 and 200 over the past two weeks, which is classified as "unhealthy". Liu Chuan (刘川), head of KEBP, told reporters discrepancies between his bureau's numbers and national reporting agencies were due to differences in sample durations and calculations.

He went on to explain "...due to the colder weather, Kunming's air pollution index has increased. It is close to the limit of air quality standards, but not excessive. The air quality is still good." When asked about Chinese air quality reports that showed Kunming had the third worst air pollution in the country for one day last week, Liu was non-committal: "We have not studied their data. We don't know how they got their rankings."

Local and national reports do agree that Kunming's air pollution levels spike early in the morning. Particulate matter then gradually decreases until 6pm when conditions are at their best. People wanting to exercise have been advised to do so in the evening and eschew morning work-outs.

Incessant construction and the addition of hundreds of new cars each day to Kunming's streets are both contributing factors to the city's air quality. Recent forest fires in Anning could have exacerbated smog levels as well.

Air pollution stories have become something of an obsession for Chinese media recently. The fixation began January 12, after the US Embassy in Beijing released statistics showing the capital had an AQI of 755 — 255 points above the scale's measurement limit.

Image: Philippe Semanaz

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Where are the testing samples taken?? south of the city would be cleaner than center and north east

Late afternoon air quality is better because of convection between surface air and higher elevation air, polluted hot air on the surface rises to 1500 meters from ground then winds blow it eastwards.

We know the air is getting worst. Don't piss on me and tell me it's raining. The problem is, what they doing about it? Absolutely nothing.

Last person you ever would want to ask for accurate data reports would be anyone who is in anyway associated with chinese government agencies. Look at the difference between US Embassy readings and Chinese readings in the past. I have lived in a USA city which had excessive air inversion for several days and ratings spiked at 75-100 and i can tell you the air was nothing close to as bad as it has been here for the past several months. You could see the haze in the distance but nothing like here when you can see a pronounced haze sometimes in just a few block area.

It starts to look like Kathmandu. Amazing you can still see the Western hills on the photo there. In a while its probably nostalgia, and the view is blocked by smog.

Imagine Daguan Lou, and the famous view from there, even belonging to "China's four famous viewing towers", when all you see from there soon is smog, a polluted sea and high concrete buildings.

I think in 5 years I will move to another place with less pollution.

Most Chinese cities are polluted. Trying to do anything about it is currently impossible. Try telling the government that they have to stop production or make it more expensive: Like playing the lute to a cow. It is easier to move to areas of the world that are clean.

Interesting to compare Philippe's air pollution shot from this article with the worst one I could find five years ago:


It's hard not to feel that once the oil refinery in Anning goes online people will talk about Kunming's once-blue skies the way older residents talk about swimming in a clean Dianchi.

I was going to comment that the picture was taken on a good day because you can see the western hills. Many days and i look out my front window at the western hills i cannot see them in the haze. That was not the case when we moved here last fall. Could see them very clearly most days.

At whatever point a city starts drawing Kathmandu comparisons its not good. Certainly seems whoever is calling the shots around here, is hell bent on ruining a place that used to be nice.

so how many chinese cities are considered 'livable' now?

My mistake for not dating the photo. I will put a more recent image up as soon as I have one.

Actually there has been an exodus out of China. People just can't take it anymore living with polluted air, water, land.

There used to be "no car day" in Kunming. Few years back. But not around anymore?

How about "No Air Day".

The air in KM is really getting worse, but this seems not arise enough attention from the government and locals. For me, the most important reason is that Kunmingers are too addicted to the fame "Spring City". Many kunmingers I know will never forget to show how warm KM is in winter when they are working or studying in other provinces. Even last Saturday, one of my Kunming friends in Beijing has posted some pictures about KM taken several years ago on his blogger to show how beautiful KM is, without knowing KM is now being a "construction city" due to the metro thing. For me, Kunmingers are too obsessed with the fame and don't wanna wake up to see "spring city" is not really always spring here.

Great photos Mike. All older Kunming photos - and not too long ago - have those, say, fluffy, thick and creamy white clouds navigating the clear blue sky. Its almost a prototype of old Yunnan; a deep blue sky abundant of creamy clouds, with some ancient cypresses on the ground, a stone bridge, a caravan and a worn out opium smoking coolie.

Are those clouds around anymore, ...anywhere?

I flew into Kunming Sunday afternoon. There were fluffy white clouds, all nestled in a sea of grey. It was not pretty.


Yeah we still have em....later in May/June as the humidity increases.

Cumulus Cloud formations will still occur although with added polution.....

The convection(created by the sun on earth's surface) that creates these clouds are invisible, if the humidity is low( dry air) the cloud won't form but the convection is still there pumping polluted air high in the sky, then it drifts away with the prevailing winds, hence the reason Kunming's air is cleaner late in the day..

If you observe Kunming's air quality in the morning, its the pollution accumulated over the past 8 to 10 hours.It's worse when the prevailing winds are calm and the atmosphere is stable.

exodus? most people can't leave even if they wanted to.

What a beautiful day we're having.

Exodus? I was referring to expats. Especially in BJ and the major cities. They can't take the pollution anymore. Especially those with kids.

Started up my new air purifier yesterday, had no idea that it would work this good. Kunming air from over 200 to 57 now. HaHa.

Is not only air pollution is water and earth pollution. The road from km to dali is piled with rubbish on the side.

What makes me think, in a metempsychosis hypothesis, is that many polluters, west and east, are not from this planet and dont mind trying kill it.


so you're saying aliens rule the world, gompo?

Nope, it is a working hypothesis.

But i do believe in metempsychosis.

When i see how some dont give a shit about pollution i really wonder if they belong to this planet.

For instance, in my homeland, seeing the level of pollution of atmosphere and water, i now call them vasktitans.

Not Kunming specific but an interesting article nonetheless.


Not to get self righteous. But its pretty disgusting what humans do to their environment... And China is certainly at the forefront of that destruction.

sorry, i don't know what metempsychosis and vasktitans means.

we're all contributing to pollution. i saw a chinese woman washing her clothes by hand the other day. that's a lot of energy saved right there if everyone did that.

So you mean China is the forefront of destruction at the moment? As I think this is common in a developing country. UK had exactly the same problem in the 40's-50's, hence most Chinese know it as the smog city. I think we worry to much, the rich and powerful in Bejing have to breathe the same air so something will be done sooner than later. Seriously though layoff slagging China off, we buy all the products they manufacture,which causes most of this pollution, so really we should be writing how they can remedy it. Perhaps stop western people being such consumers and greedy?

Also, it is proven that temperature rises first & then Co2 rises etc. So I think global warming not too much of a control factor for humans. The Earth goes through temperature change as a matter of cycle. So I would not worry about that.

Also, it is proven that temperature rises first & then Co2 rises etc. So I think global warming not too much of a control factor for humans. The Earth goes through temperature change as a matter of cycle. So I would not worry about that.

You're probably right, I guess the international scientific community must be wrong. Thanks I was worried, now I'm not. Whatever kunmingteacher teaches, its clearly not science.

the international scientific community is wrong about a lot of things. probably deliberately in many cases. just like when you lie to your girlfriend and tell her you were out drinking with the boys.

and sometimes the opinions of the average joe amateur scientist-wannabe are right.

Ha haa, Kunmingteacher, you have pedalled a classic global warming misapprehension. To see why, just like understanding climate is complex, you have to read the complex answer as to why, as stated here:www.realclimate.org/[...]

If you think about global warming logically, we are stripping forests at an amazing rate and replacing them with carbon (be it CO2 or methane) producing environments. At the same time we have created machines and electrical systems that pump billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year combined with a massive population. Do you think changing the fundamental way a complex system operates will have zero effect? It's like claiming that going from heaps of exercise to zero exercise will have no effect on your health. Dreaming.

Thats a pretty big generalization, and one from which I can see very little meaning other than the implication that I'm wrong. Care to enlighten me on how that is in this case?

Thats a good link bobbles. Kind of amazing its 2013 and there are still people spouting off such ridiculous statements.


Chinese sceptics see global warming as US conspiracy

''Global warming is a bogus proposition,'' says Zhang Musheng, one of China's most influential intellectuals and a close adviser to a powerful and hawkish general in the People's Liberation Army, Liu Yuan.

Mr Zhang told the Herald that global warming was an American ruse to sell green energy technology and thereby claw its way out of its deep structural economic problems.

Is that the same PLA general who says that bird flu is part of US psyche warfare?

Whatever the arguments about global warming.
Whoever is to blame.

DianChi is green with algae, and unsafe to swim in.
Urban air pollution/smog is recognised as a major problem in China.

You only have to think about my last fairly logical statement about complex systems (and study systems theory a bit) and the evedenciary recorded warming since the mid 1900's to realise global warming, or better "climate change", is not just a theory, but actually happening. I aren't saying don't keep questioning, I encourage particularly scientific evidence to the contrary, but denying human caused climate forcing now is equivalent to claiming the earth is flat. There is simply too much change in too short of a time span without a massive meteor or volcano to explain the current trend without attributing it to the human caused conditional change. If you still doubt it's us causing the change, I encourage people to suggest another cause of a 1 degree climb in global temps in a century.

The longer you have lived in Kunming the more you can see the climate has been damaged. Hotter summers, dirtier air, persistent drought.

Anyone want to speculate about the future? I am morbidly interested in this topic.

Here is where some legitimate disagreements can be had. Obviously the climate is changing because of humans. But exactly what that means is less clear. I tend toward the less optimistic doomsday end of the spectrum. I hope I'm wrong.

Been meaning to read that book "when a billion chinese jump" haven't been able to find it yet. Hopefully will soon, supposed to be good discussion on China's environmental future.

Is that the same PLA general who says that bird flu is part of US psyche warfare?

Ha, never heard that one. But yeah, maybe PLA generals are not the best sources of reliable information. Just thought it was funny.

blobbles is mostly right. however, i don't think global 'warming' is accurate. i was in greece several years ago and it was summer but too cold to swim. a local said it was the coldest summer they'd ever had.


Bhutan rails against world's 'suicidal path'

Its constitution now ensures that at least 60% of the country remains under forest cover in perpetuity and its aim is to be 100% organic in its agricultural production.

"[Our] measures of progress and GNH index clearly show that producing and consuming more stuff does not make people happier. On the contrary when they overwork and go into debt to buy ever more goods and pay the bills, they get more stressed. Working, producing and consuming less is not only good for nature but gives us more time to enjoy each others", says Thinley.

Obviously the climate is changing because of humans. But exactly what that means is less clear. I tend toward the less optimistic doomsday end of the spectrum. I hope I'm wrong.

There are already some clear signs:

The cancer rates have been rising steadily in China due to air pollution.

Natural disasters are becoming more common.

I think "global warming" as a term ended up with too much baggage, climate change is more comprehensive. But by definition its still accurate, statistically the world is getting warmer. If your trotting out the good old "well it snowed today. So where is global warming?" argument. About all I can do is sigh

actually, kumingteacher makes some valid points. the earth has gone through cycles in the past. the global warming theory is flawed/limited and possibly has some political agenda behind it.

this is an excellent 9 minute video on U-tube:
Why The Global Warming Agenda Is Wrong

But by definition its still accurate, statistically the world is getting warmer.

no, not necessarily. in the 70s, the consensus was that we were heading for another ice age.

anyway, i think hell will freeze over before we figure it all out.

It's too simplistic just to look at data that temperatures have been rising.

Why wouldn't you want to watch the "9/11 was an inside job" video? Even though you think it's absurd, why not watch it? It's a form of bigotry only to watch or read things that already agree with your own opinions.

What ever we call it Global Warming or different weather patterns, must focus on fact that even global warming advocates have said though the earth is warming we will see huge fluctuations in the weather in some areas. Warming of earth will impact areas differently. Example USA last summer set like 10,000 all time heat records. This spring was almost coldest all time in northern states influenced by strange weather pattern over Greenland?. Because much less an area of the Great Lakes are freezing over are now experiencing record evaporation rates year around and they are at or have exceeded record low levels which has and will greatly impact shipping in the future on the Great Lakes. You can read about so many negative changes happening such as Snow capped mountains bare half the year now, Glaciers melting, ice caps with less and less ice. Lets hope we are in a trend that will reverse itself soon.

I was simply highlighting temperature statistics — because what you were saying was factually at odds with reality.

"Lets hope we are in a trend that will reverse itself soon." Yeah lets hope.

we can debate this all day and night if you like. and let me know when you watch the 9/11 videos so we can debate that too.

How Do We Really Know if the Earth Is Getting Warmer?

An expert in thermodynamics says the assumption that the earth is getting warmer through the use of what is called a "global temperature" is scientifically unsound.

Professor Bjarne Andresen of the University of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute says it is meaningless to talk about an average global temperature. He says compiling temperatures from various places and averaging them would be like calculating the average phone number in the phone book.

We can argue about temperatures until the cows come home, and for political reasons, many people do. That is why the term 'global warming' has been superseded by the term 'climate change'.

As for the future. An important ecological presupposition is that an environment cannot be destroyed, only modified. The earths environment may be modified to a point where the earth can no longer support human life at the levels we have been used to. What happens then? Perhaps a lot of techno-fixes, to create micro climates that are less stressful for human life.

Perhaps, Africa will become more temperate, and other areas of the globe will become more hostile to life. Perhaps the droughts and famines will visit Europe and the Americas.

In nature, where the environment changes faster than animals can evolve, there is 'cultural evolution'. This is where animals change thier behavior in order to survive. The finches in the Galapagos isands are an example of this, where different species feed at different levels of the same tree, as a way of avoiding direct competition with other species. Personally, I think there is room for humans to undergo more cultural evolution.

I'm not American. But close enough to know that fox news is a highly questionable source of information.

Although its subtle, I'm starting to see a certain trollishness to what you say. Unfortunately I took the bait. Good luck finding someone willing to discuss 9/11 conspiracies with you mate. Have a nice day.

jaja bhutan had bad king they need b peacefully liberated (or protected)

for future prediction, according Timaeus by Plato (which i do not defend), when it is fire problem, mountain people are more in danger

in my opinion, people bring themselves bad luck and natural disasters with their consumer and destructive behaviour

do not create suffering ! end all suffering !

I admit that I can be annoying with some of my remarks. If that's trolling, then well maybe I'm a troll.

Yeah, alright. Fox news is not reliable. But neither are your sources necessarily reliable. I happen to agree with tiger's last post.

As for 9/11, you brought it up. I don't need to find anyone to discuss it with.

Kunming's air is much better than having chemtrails dumped on you from above.

Water vapor is worse than smog? That is news to me.

Why did you bump this thread?

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