A man wearing a mask walks in the central business district on a polluted day after a yellow alert was issued for smog, in Beijing, China November 14, 2018.

Greenpeace reveals stats of smog in northern China in midst of restrictions

Image credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee

Smog in northern China worsened in October and November compared to a year earlier, says Greenpeace, as the government eases the pace at which it ramps up air quality controls at a time when the economy is slowing.

In a study of official pollution data, the environmental group found that small, breathable particulate matter known as PM2.5 in the capital of Beijing was 10 per cent worse over the two months than the same period in 2017.

Analysts investigated these months because they lead-up to winter, when heating systems are most likely to be switched on.

Last year, China made plans to cut PM2.5 emissions by at least 15 per cent year-on-year in 28 smog-prone northern Chinese cities – results showed that all but three met their targets over the period. However, in October and November this year, PM2.5 in the same 28 cities rose 4 per cent year-on-year, Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace advise that the cities need to cut PM2.5 by a less onerous rate of 3 per cent this winter starting from November, and China has given them the freedom to set their own abatement plans. However, the data shows they could struggle to meet these targets.

“This winter is a test of whether delegating the responsibility for emissions cuts to local governments works – and what happens now that the targets are at risk of being missed,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, energy analyst with Greenpeace, who studied the Chinese data.

In a speech earlier this year, China’s environment minister Li Ganjie urged local officials not to drop their guard when it comes to controlling pollution this winter. However, the ministry has warned that low wind speeds and relatively high temperatures over winter compared to last year will make it harder to disperse pollution in some regions.

“If this winter sees more average conditions, as is likely by definition and as has been the case for the past few weeks, you need to cut emissions by much more than 3 per cent to hit the (air quality) target,” Myllyvirta said.

A total of 79 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the coal-rich Fenwei plain and the Yangtze river delta near Shanghai are subject to official pollution control targets this winter.

Official data showed average PM2.5 levels in the 79 cities stood at 69.8 micrograms in November, up 14 per cent from the same period last year – double China’s air quality standard of 35 micrograms.

Although the World Health Organisation recommends levels of no more than 10 micrograms, 28 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region’s average emissions rose by 47 per cent to 90.8 micrograms, while six cities in central China’s Henan province saw concentrations double from last year.

Last month, air quality in India’s haze-hit north, including the capital of New Delhi, deteriorated sharply due to an increase in smoke from stubble burning in fields across the region and unfavourable weather.

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