20 cities told to act jointly on pollution as Beijing smog lingers

Cars moving bumper to bumper on a congested highway on a polluted day in Beijing on Jan 5. The smog across the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is expected to peak today and tomorrow in terms of severity and coverage, according to the China National Envi
Cars moving bumper to bumper on a congested highway on a polluted day in Beijing on Jan 5. The smog across the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is expected to peak today and tomorrow in terms of severity and coverage, according to the China National Environmental Monitoring Centre.PHOTO: REUTERS

Cities lie along three routes taken by air pollutants moving northwards

BEIJING • Governments in cities along three pollution highways have been told to coordinate their efforts to cut emissions and help prevent the kind of smog that again blanketed the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region on Sunday and is expected to persist for five days.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has identified 20 cities that are required to beef up pollution controls and work to unify emergency response standards.

The cities lie on three routes - western, central and eastern - on which airborne pollutants travel north due to geological and meteorological conditions, according to Mr Xue Wenbo, director of airborne simulation for the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning.

There are eight such cities in Hebei province, five in Shandong province and five in Henan province, as well as Beijing and Tianjin.

Researchers have said that tackling emissions in cities along the routes will cut the severity of air pollution in neighbouring areas and ultimately help Beijing meet its ambitious target this year.

The goal is to reduce the daily concentration of PM2.5 - fine particulate matter that is particularly hazardous - to 60 micrograms per cubic metre, down from 73 last year.

SLOW TO REACT

We've found that some cities do not make a timely emergency response or do less than is required to avoid affecting industrial production.

MR LIU BINGJIANG, head of air quality management for the ministry.

The ministry has installed more monitoring stations to facilitate targeted solutions to the problem posed by the smog highways in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.

Pollutants discharged from chimneys taller than 45m on the routes can reach the capital within hours, according to Minister of Environmental Protection Chen Jining.

To address that problem, the ministry sent inspection teams to 1,239 factories with 45m chimneys in the 20 cities last year to oversee measures to cut the rate of excessive pollutants. As a result, the rate fell from 31 per cent to 3.79 per cent over the 12 months, Mr Chen said.

In addition, the ministry also limited or halted industrial production and processing of iron and steel and ordered cities to coordinate their smog responses.

"We've found that some cities do not make a timely emergency response or do less than is required to avoid affecting industrial production,"said Mr Liu Bingjiang, head of air quality management for the ministry. Cities should engage in joint controls instead of waiting for others to act, he said, adding that government officials' performance will be assessed by the ministry.

The smog across the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is expected to peak today and tomorrow in terms of severity and coverage, according to the China National Environmental Monitoring Centre.

Twenty-three cities are forecast to experience severe air pollution tomorrow, including Beijing, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang and Baoding in Hebei province, Jinan and Dezhou in Shandong province, and Zhengzhou in Henan province.

Meanwhile, China is considering forcing steel and aluminium producers to cut more output, banning coal in one of the country's top ports and shutting some fertiliser and drug plants as Beijing intensifies its war on smog, according to a draft policy document by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

If implemented, they would be some of the most radical steps so far to tackle air quality in the country's most polluted cities.

The document outlines plans to cut steel and fertiliser capacity by at least half and aluminium capacity by at least 30 per cent in 28 cities across five regions from around late November to late this month.

A source with direct knowledge of the proposal said the environmental watchdog has distributed the draft to relevant local governments and companies seeking reaction.

CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline '20 cities told to act jointly on pollution as Beijing smog lingers'. Print Edition | Subscribe