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China air pollution

Intense smog is a global problem, says China’s environment minister

Chen Jining says climate abnormalities are creating a lethal mix with polluting industries not just in China, but around the world

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 9:59pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 11:22pm

China’s environment minister said smog has become a global concern that was caused by climate abnormalities, comparing the nation’s air pollution problem to those in London and Paris.

Serious smog has loomed over Beijing and many other cities in North China, while Paris went through more than a week of the worst winter pollution in a decade last month and London breached annual air pollution limits in first week of 2017.

Officials have pledged to take new actions against pollutant emission this year, but the battle would be a long and difficult one.

Clean air: a luxury for just one in 10 people

In a meeting on Saturday, acting Beijing mayor Cai Qi said the city government would step up use of clean energy, phase out vehicles using dirty fuels and crack down on polluting factories.

Chen Jining, the Minister of Environmental Protection, told state media on Friday that winter heating, industrial emissions and automobile exhausts were major contributers to smog, but the low air quality was also caused by unfavourable weather conditions linked to a very strong El Nino over the Pacific from 2015 to last year.

A band of abnormally warm current had developed in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific and affected the climate around the globe. Many nations, including developed countries such as Britain, France and South Korea where smog was believed to be a thing of the past, re-encountered high intensity, large scale air pollution this winter, said Chen, an environmental scientist formerly at Tsinghua University.

He said these incidents occurred at the same time as the rise of smog in China under similar weather conditions, such as inactive cold winds from the north and exceptionally high temperatures in localities, which was “extremely unfavourable” to dispersing air pollution and accelerating chemical reactions in the lower atmosphere that generated a large amount of secondary fine particulate matter, or PM2.5.

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The ministry had come up with several measures to reduce the winter smog in north China, especially in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province.

High emission factories such as cement and steel would have to reduce or cease production in winter, Chen said. These industries not only produced pollutants during production but caused enormous emissions in transportation. This unprecedented ban would take effect this year over the entire north China plain.

“Industrial enterprises have to sacrifice for people’s livelihood,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.

Four cities including Beijing, Tianjin, Baoding and Langfang, would restrict the use of coal. All coal burning heaters in rural homes or urban communities would be replaced by natural gas or electricity. the policy would be implemented in future in other cities such as Shijiazhuang, Jinan, Taiyuan and Zhengzhou.

Small manufacturers including chemicals, furniture, printing and construction materials, would be gradually removed from the north China plain. These factories used a large amount of paints and oil that can easily vaporize and increase pollutants in the atmosphere, Chen said.

What exactly is causing China’s toxic smog?

The environmental authorities will also set up a pollution monitoring network on highways to catch high emission vehicles. A heavy diesel truck generates 200 times the pollutants of a sedan. Roadside laser cameras can identify passing vehicles and measure their emissions, Chen said.

Vehicles that did not meet environment standards would be fined and banned from the roads.

Fighting smog required many changes in industrial structure, energy consumption and lifestyles, so process would be a long one, Chen told Xinhua.

“It is a battle against a heavily fortified target, and it will last a long time,” he said.