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China pollution

Heavy smog expected to blanket 79 cities across north, northwest and east of China

  • Pollution is forecast to peak on Sunday evening and Monday morning and could take four days to clear
  • Government has said it will be less stringent about emissions curbs this winter
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 4:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 10:42pm

Chinese authorities have issued air pollution warnings across the north, northwest and east of the country, with heavy smog expected to shroud 79 cities this weekend.

It is forecast to peak on Sunday evening and Monday morning, and the China National Environmental Monitoring Centre said it could take four days for the pollutants to clear amid humid and static weather.

The warnings come as the thick smog that descended last weekend across many of these cities had only just started to clear.

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Affected areas include Beijing and Tianjin municipalities, Hebei, Shanxi, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shandong, Henan and Shaanxi provinces as well as the Yangtze River Delta.

Red air pollution warnings – the highest of three alerts, indicating the Air Quality Index will exceed 300 for more than three days – have been issued for five cities in those areas. The index measures levels of PM2.5, the tiny, breathable airborne particles that are deemed particularly harmful to health.

The red alert means factories considered to be heavy polluters will have to shut down and there will also be restrictions on motorists.

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In Beijing, a yellow warning has been issued – the lowest level, meaning the index is likely to top 200 for more than two days. Conditions are expected to worsen in the Chinese capital from Saturday evening, and schools and education facilities have been ordered to cancel any sporting or outdoor events.

Ministry of Ecology and Environment spokesman Liu Youbin on Friday said Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and the surrounding regions had been affected by four periods of heavy air pollution in November alone.

He said that while the weather affected air pollution, the fundamental cause was industrial emissions and lifestyle factors.

“The basic reason is that the level of emissions is excessive,” Liu said, calling for more efforts to curb pollution year-round.

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The government has said it will be less severe with its pollution curbs this winter as it grapples with slower economic growth and the trade war with the United States.

Last winter, it imposed blanket bans on industrial production in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, which is often the worst affected by choking smog. But in September the environment ministry said it would let steel plants continue producing as long as their emissions met standards.

It revised down targets for overall emission cuts for the region and surrounding areas over autumn and winter, with 28 cities expected to cut levels of PM2.5 by about 3 per cent from a year ago – less than the 5 per cent proposed in an initial plan seen by the South China Morning Post in August. This winter’s plan also sets a 3 per cent reduction target – also revised down from 5 per cent in the draft – for the number of days of severe air pollution in those northern cities from October 1 to March 31.