SHANGHAI/BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's top steel-making province of Hebei has issued an "orange" smog alert effective from Nov 1, with pollution expected to be "severe", the local environment bureau said on Wednesday (Oct 30).
Unfavourable weather conditions, including rising humidity and weak southerly winds, would make it harder for smog particles to be diffused, it said.
Orange is the second-highest level on a three-tiered smog alert system that triggers emergency measures.
To minimise economic disruption, firms included on a"positive list" - those that have complied with rules to reduce pollution - will not be asked to shut down or cut output over the period.
However, they will be encouraged to take voluntary action to reduce emissions, the bureau said.
Hebei province, which surrounds the capital Beijing, contained five of China's 10 smoggiest cities in the first three quarters of this year, according to official data.
It promised this week that it would strictly punish officials responsible for missing winter smog targets, but it also vowed to implement a more nuanced approach to controlling pollution and refrain from blanket industrial closures.
China's top steel-making city Tangshan, which is in Hebei, will impose second-level pollution measures from Oct 31, according to local media.
Some steel mills will be ordered to halt sintering and pellet production, and some will also have to curtail blast furnace operations by at least 50 per cent.
Northern China is about to embark on its third year of winter pollution controls, but according to a Reuters analysis of official data, its targets for 2019-2020 are not ambitious enough to offset last year's surge in smog throughout the region.
As many as 15 of the 28 smog-prone cities in and around the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region could still experience higher smog levels than two years ago, even if they meet their targets, stoking fears that China was easing off in a bid to reduce economic pressures.
Asked about China's ambitions this year, Mr Liu Youbin, a spokesman for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, told reporters on Tuesday that "the intensity would not be reduced and the pressure would not change".
But he also warned that winter weather conditions this year were expected to be much more unfavourable than two years ago, when strong winds helped disperse emissions.