One week in Beijing: from blue skies to smog and back again

Visitors arriving for China’s ‘two sessions’ were treated to a few clear days before smog descended on the city

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 7:41pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 April, 2017, 11:40am

China’s Premier Li Keqiang vowed to “make our skies blue again” in his annual work report in Beijing on Sunday. If the past seven days are anything to go by, he has a big job ahead of him.

While the air over Beijing was clear in the early days of last week, by Thursday smog began to descend on the city, just as the country’s top political officials were arriving for the annual “two sessions” plenary meetings of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

On Friday, the hourly average density of PM2.5 – superfine airborne particles considered most hazardous to human health – hit 83.8 micrograms per cubic metre, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Although well above the World Health Organisation’s recommended safe level of 25 micrograms per cubic metre, this was considerably lower than the ministry’s earlier forecast of 140 to 160 micrograms per cubic metre.

Watch: Time-lapse footage of Beijing’s hazy skies last week

By the time Li gave his annual report on Sunday, the smog had dispersed and PM2.5 levels dropped to an hourly average density of 15.7 micrograms per cubic metre.

Addressing the NPC, Li said China would cut steel capacity by 50 million tonnes and coal output by more than 150 million tonnes this year as a means to curb overcapacity and bring back unpolluted blue skies.

“Officials who do a poor job in enforcing the law, knowingly allow environmental violations, or respond inadequately to worsening air quality will be held accountable,” he said.