China pollution

Questions as clear skies in Beijing coincide with NPC, CPPCC meetings

Residents speculate about timely smog-free air and start of annual NPC, CPPCC sessions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 2:59pm

The return of joggers, mountains on the western horizon and smiles on the unmasked faces of passers-by heralded a huge improvement in Beijing's air quality yesterday.

And to no doubt the satisfaction of the central government, crisp, smog-free air was forecast to continue into today, as National People's Congress (NPC) delegates gather for the opening of their annual meeting.

The conditions were idyllic compared with the hazy norm in the past few months, as the temperature rose to 16 degrees Celsius and the PM2.5 pollution index fell as low as 23 micrograms per cubic metre, well into the "excellent" range, according to the United States embassy's readings. The official figures were even more rosy, with the PM2.5 reading falling to 10. Many days in recent months have seen the level exceed 200.

The National Meteorological Centre estimated that conditions would remain dry and sunny this morning.

With such a marked improvement in air quality, many residents speculated that Beijing must have taken measures to reduce pollution for the annual meetings of the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), during which the nation's new leaders will be appointed.

It was reminiscent of 2008, when the air quality dramatically improved for the Beijing Summer Olympics, when the government shut down many factories in the region.

However, some major pollution emitters in Beijing and neighbouring areas said yesterday that they had not received an order to reduce or postpone production during the two weeks of NPC and CPPCC meetings.

A staff member with the Sinopec Beijing Yanshan Company said they were told to continue normal operations.

"The government has stepped up the monitoring on our discharged pollutants, but the measure is nothing compared with the shutdown during the Olympics," he said.

The government has stepped up the monitoring on our discharged pollutants, but the measure is nothing compared with the shutdown during the Olympics

Administrative staff at the Hongrun Heavy Industry Group in Hebei and at the Taiyuan Iron and Steel Group in Shanxi also said they had not received any special orders regarding the political events in Beijing.

They said the measures during the Olympics prompted many complaints from the manufacturing industry, suggesting that Beijing would be unlikely to enact the measures again.

Professor Chen Zhongmin, an air pollution expert with Peking University, said nature played a much bigger part in yesterday's improvement in the weather than the government did.

He explained that humidity in spring is considerably lower than in winter, and without droplets of water in the air, pollutants cannot easily cling together and create smog. Also, the rise in temperature reduced the need to burn as much coal at heating facilities.

But Chen said the favourable conditions would likely vanish in summer as the humidity level increases and coal plants are burning almost non-stop to meet electricity demands from the use of air conditioners.

Stressing that relying on nature to provide clean air is not an option, Chen said: "We must take decisive measures to reduce pollution, or we will see fewer and fewer blue skies each day."

CPPCC delegate Pan Qinglin agrees with Chen.

"The smog was nature's way of sending us a warning that what we are doing today is pushing the human race to the edge of extinction," Pan said.

"Some developing countries might look at China and marvel at the so-called Chinese development model.

"They should realise that the downside of economic glory is environmental destruction."