Beijing's battle with air pollution will 'take time'

A woman wearing a mask as protection against the smog in Beijing earlier this month. Though China's capital has made progress in cutting breathable particulate matter, the level has yet to reach the official standard.
A woman wearing a mask as protection against the smog in Beijing earlier this month. Though China's capital has made progress in cutting breathable particulate matter, the level has yet to reach the official standard.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING • Beijing's battle against air pollution will take time and be very tough to win despite recent improvements, the acting mayor of China's capital said yesterday.

The city has been fighting to clean its notoriously smoggy air through steps such as pushing households and factories to switch from coal to cleaner fuels.

"Further improvement in air quality (will be) extremely difficult," Beijing's acting mayor Chen Jining said in a statement released during the city's congress meeting.

The central government's intense focus on air quality means many local officials' careers are linked to the success of efforts to tackle smog, making it unusual to speak candidly about the challenges of meeting tough targets.

Beijing chalked up a short-term victory by cutting the annual average level of breathable particulate matter (PM2.5) to 58 micrograms (mcg) per cubic m last year, beating a 60 mcg target set by the State Council in 2013. However, the city is still some way from reaching its official PM2.5 standard of 35 mcg and the recommended level of no more than 10 mcg set by the World Health Organisation.

Beijing has weaned homes and factories off coal, reducing the city's annual coal consumption by as much as 74 per cent in five years to under six million tonnes last year, Mr Chen said at a meeting of the local legislature.

The city has also closed or upgraded 11,000 polluting companies and taken more than two million obsolete vehicles off the road.

"In the next stage, Beijing will issue a new air pollution prevention plan and step up environmental inspections," said Mr Chen. "And we will continue to push the conversion to clean energy from coal in rural areas and phase out vehicles exceeding exhaust emissions standards."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Beijing's battle with air pollution will 'take time''. Print Edition | Subscribe