By: Emily Feng

Long renowned for its thick industrial haze, China’s capital has over the winter enjoyed more frequent blue skies.

Beijing’s average concentration of airborne PM2.5 levels — tiny particulates that are especially damaging to human health — fell more than a fifth last year, suggesting that China’s willingness to move heavy industry outside the city and cut its reliance on coal is having a positive environmental impact.

However, air pollution levels in Beijing have always closely tracked economic planning, hinting that the respite from the smog is only temporary — a concern that has been compounded by a run of smoggy days in the capital this month after winter pollution controls were lifted.

“China’s efforts to reduce pollution in the past several years have been remarkable,” said Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute in Chicago. “The questions going forward are whether . . . they will turn to regulatory approaches that better facilitate the urgent need for continued robust economic growth.”

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