From a new working paper by Yuyu Chen, Ginger Zhe Jin, Naresh Kumar, and Guang Shi called “The Promise of Beijing: Evaluating the Impact of the 2008 Olympic Games on Air Quality”:
To prepare for the 2008 Olympic Games, China adopted a number of radical measures to improve air quality. Using officially reported air pollution index (API) from 2000 to 2009, we show that these measures improved the API of Beijing during and after the Games, but 60% of the effect faded away by the end of October 2009. Since the credibility of API data has been questioned, an objective and indirect measure of air quality at a high spatial resolution – aerosol optical depth (AOD), derived using the data from the NASA satellites – was analyzed and compared with the API trend. The analysis confirms that the improvement was real but temporary and most improvement was attributable to plant closure and traffic control. Our results suggest that it is possible to achieve real environmental improvement in an authoritarian regime but the magnitude of the effect and how long it lasts depend on the political motivation behind the policy interventions.