Air quality seriously deteriorated in some major metropolises on the mainland last year, but there were surprising improvements in a few cities, said an environmental report released in Beijing yesterday.
Beijing's air was the second-most polluted last year among 31 municipal and provincial capital cities ranked by Friends of Nature, a major non-governmental organisation, in its annual Green Book of Environment.
Liu Jianqiang , chief editor of the report, said that he could understand why some foreigners had reportedly left Beijing for better air. "They made a wise decision because I don't think Beijing's air quality will improve any time soon," he said. "Many locals, in fact, have the same idea. But we have nowhere to go."
Lanzhou, in the northwestern province of Gansu, finished 31st, below Beijing.
Haikou, in the southernmost province of Hainan, was said to have the cleanest air last year, followed by Kunming, Yunnan and Lhasa, Tibet. Guangzhou ranked fifth, and Shanghai was ninth. The results were based on government-provided figures on air pollutants, including sulphur dioxide and fine particles.
While some rankings stayed more or less the same over the past few years, those of other cities changed considerably.
For example, Tianjin was ranked 17th in 2011, but fell to 26th last year, and Chengdu in Sichuan has slipped from 16th in 2010 to 19th in 2011 and 28th last year.
Chengdu residents blamed the serious decline in air quality to an infrastructure boom. The local government last year launched an unprecedented road-renovation project downtown to build a flyover above the Second Ring Road.
"The construction is all over the city and it not only generates a lot of dust, but big traffic jams almost every day," said a resident. Officials are desperate to finish it before June to welcome the visit of President Xi Jinping to the Fortune Global Forum [to be held by Fortune magazine from June 6-8]."
Tianjin blamed its decline in air quality on the weather. An environmental protection official in the municipality told the website of the People's Daily in December that it missed air quality targets due to frequent dust storms in the spring of last year.
But a restaurant manager in Nankai district said people were worried about the rapid expansion of industrial centres. The local government had aspired to turn Tianjin into an engine of economic growth, he said. Heavy industry, coal-fired power plants, manufacturing and other polluting industrial sectors have been allowed to grow rapidly in so-called special economic zones.
But some cities saw their air improve. Hefei in Anhui moved up from 28th in 2011 to 13th last year. Resident Yang Caixia said she did not notice a dramatic improvement.
Chongqing , ranked 24th in 2008 had moved up to 10th by last year.