Where in China can you find the worst air pollution? You might be surprised ...
Xinjiang is home to six of the country’s 10 most polluted cities, Greenpeace survey finds, while there has been a 23 per cent improvement in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area because of a slowdown in the coal and steel sectors
Xinjiang and Henan were China’s top two polluted provinces in the first quarter of the year, a survey by Greenpeace has found.
Experts say the finding may reflect a trend in polluting factories moving west to avoid more stringent green policies being introduced in the east. It may also reflect a greater use of heating during last year’s harsh winter.
Both were more polluted than Hebei province, which is known for its steel factories and has topped the list in the past.
The average level of PM2.5 – the tiny particulates that can lodge deep in people’s lungs – in Xinjiang and Henan surpassed 100 micrograms per cubic metre. That is 10 times the safe level recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Six of China’s 10 most polluted cities were in Xinjiang, while Henan and Shandong accounted for the rest, according to the air quality ranking of 362 cities.
In the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, once the worst polluted region, PM2.5 levels dropped 23 per cent compared to the same period last year. The improvement comes on the back of a slowdown in the coal and steel sectors.
“The results show the measures to curb air pollution in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas are working,” said Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Dong Liansai.
“But this could also be a sign of the polluting factories moving west as the environmental policies are comparatively lax there.”
Sixty-nine cities in central and western provinces recorded worsening air quality in the first quarter, with PM2.5 levels increasing an average of 20 per cent.
Kashgar was by far the most polluted city with an average PM2.5 level of 276.1 in the first three months – up 99 per cent. Hotan in Xinjiang saw an increase of 49 per cent.
The worsening pollution in Xinjiang might also have been caused by sandstorms and increased use of heating during last winter, which was harsher than usual, Dong said.
“Central government needs to implement a unified environmental policy across the nation to prevent the prevailing trend of shifting polluting industries towards the west. We have noticed that some western and central cities are rather lax in giving approvals for industrial projects,” said Dong,
New coal-fired power plants were concentrated in the western region, with 75 per cent of licences granted in central or western China last year, said Greenpeace, which analysed data from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Environment minister Chen Jining pledged last year that China would prevent polluting industries shifting west.
The average PM2.5 level of all 362 cities in the first quarter was 60.7, a decline of 8.8 per cent compared to the first quarter of last year. Beijing and Shanghai saw the average concentration fall by 27 and 12 per cent, respectively. Altogether, 85 of the ranked cities failed to meet China’s national air quality standard of 35, which is three times higher than the WHO’s standard of 10.