Beijing's air pollution levels hit 'hazardous'

Smog is seen over parts of Beijing in this photo taken from the viewing deck of a tourist tower. It is expected to last until Wednesday, according to an official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Smog is seen over parts of Beijing in this photo taken from the viewing deck of a tourist tower. It is expected to last until Wednesday, according to an official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Second-highest air pollution alert raised; spike linked to coal-burning for heating

BEIJING • Air pollution reached "hazardous" levels in Beijing yesterday, prompting the city to upgrade to the second-highest alert for the first time in 13 months. This was on the same day that the Chinese government said it has met pollution-reduction targets for the year.

Beijing's municipal government lifted the air-pollution alert to orange at 10am yesterday, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre.

The concentration of PM2.5, the particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, as of 9.34pm last Saturday was 300 micrograms per cubic m - which is about 12 times higher than World Health Organisation-recommended limits.

The air quality worsened yesterday, and the centre upgraded the alert without providing an updated pollution reading.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said 10 cities in the northern provinces of Hebei, Shandong and Shanxi reported severe air pollution, while air quality in another 21 cities, including Beijing and Tianjin, reported "heavy pollution levels".

The smog is expected to continue until Wednesday when wind is expected, according to an official from the ministry.

In some parts of Hebei province bordering Beijing, levels reached more than 400 micrograms per cubic m at the weekend. Reports linked the spike in pollution to weather conditions and an increase in coal-burning for winter heating.

China generates most of its electricity and heating by burning coal - which also contributes to the country's greenhouse gas emissions, the world's largest.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government yesterday said it had achieved its targets for reducing major pollutants outlined in its five-year plan ending 2015 ahead of schedule, according to Xinhua news agency.

Still, some major pollutants need to be cut by 30 to 50 per cent to substantially improve environmental quality, Xinhua cited Environment Minister Chen Jining as saying.

The Beijing smog alert underlines China's challenges as it joins other countries to try to reduce greenhouse gases.

President Xi Jinping has travelled to Paris for United Nations-sponsored talks, with more than 140 world leaders, aimed at cutting emissions.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2015, with the headline 'Beijing's air pollution levels hit 'hazardous''. Print Edition | Subscribe