Smog-filled Beijing strikes a close resemblance to Los Angeles at its polluted worst in the 1960s, the United States' top environmental protection official said yesterday.
US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said the Californian metropolis had made progress in reducing air pollution over the past few decades so there was still hope for Beijing and Shanghai.
McCarthy's comments in Hong Kong came on the final leg of her visit to China, which included trips to the capital and Shanghai. She said it was important both countries worked hand-in-hand to solve problems with air quality.
In recent days Beijing and its surrounding regions were again enveloped in choking smog, with the capital's air quality index hitting levels of "severe" - the highest on the six-tier national rating system - over the weekend.
"What I saw in Beijing was a geology and weather pattern that looked like Los Angeles and the air pollution challenges they were facing in the 1950s to 1970s," McCarthy said.
"But LA has been able to make significant progress," she said, referring to the period in the city's history when gas-guzzling vehicle exhaust fumes, plus power generation and industrial pollution filled the air with a persistent, eye-stinging smog.
Over the decades, stricter exhaust and emission controls for vehicles have led to a gradual decline in pollution.
The city, however, continues to top the list as one of the worst cities in the country for ozone pollution, according to the American Lung Association.
McCarthy said China needed to know it was possible to improve the environment while achieving economic growth.
"You don't have to give up economic progress to provide a clean environment. In the US, we saw a 70 per cent reduction in air pollutants the same time it took for our economy to double," she said.
Hong Kong's environment undersecretary, Christine Loh Kung-wai, said the Environmental Protection Department would continue to work with McCarthy's agency on issues including managing air quality, regional air pollution and marine vessel emissions.
"Closer co-operation will benefit both agencies as well as support scientific air research and related policies," Loh said.