China

Smog squad to clamp down on polluters

The smog police will crack down on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning and dust from roads.
The smog police will crack down on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning and dust from roads.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • The smog-hit Chinese capital will establish a police force to deal specifically with environmental offences as part of the city's efforts to clean up its air and get tough on persistent polluters.

The smog police will crack down on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning and dust from roads, Beijing's Acting Mayor Cai Qi said last Saturday, according to Xinhua news agency.

"These acts of non-compliance with regulations are actually the result of lax supervision and weak law enforcement," Mr Cai told a government meeting, Reuters reported.

Nearly three years into a "war on pollution", large swathes of northern China were engulfed in smog over the New Year, with dangerous air quality readings in major cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Xi'an forcing many people to stay indoors.

The smog, which blanketed cities and disrupted flights, port operations and schools, was caused by increased coal use for winter heating and unfavourable weather conditions.

The toxic haze triggered a flight reflex among residents, leading to the rising popularity of smog avoidance travel packages to far-flung locations such as Iceland and Antarctica.

Travellers' online keyword searches for terms such as "smog escape", "lung cleansing" and "forests" tripled, according to a report titled Smog Escape Travel Ranking from travel services provider Ctrip.com International last month, reported Bloomberg.

Smog avoidance tourism has become a major theme for winter travel this year, with the Seychelles, Maldives and Iceland touted as getaways with the freshest air, according to Ctrip.com

China's continuing reliance on fossil fuels, especially in the north, made the fight against pollution difficult, Environment Minister Chen Jining said last Friday.

But he said China would still be able to solve its pollution problems faster than Western countries, including Germany, reported Reuters.

"They needed 20 to 40 years to solve it. I believe we will do it faster than they did," Mr Chen said, according to a transcript posted on the State Council's website. "We shouldn't lose confidence because of a few days of heavy pollution."

Last week, China announced it would invest 2.5 trillion yuan (S$520 billion) in renewable power generation by 2020.

Meanwhile, several districts in Hong Kong experienced poor air quality on Sunday that posed a health risk as a monsoon from the north-east brought with it the smog that has engulfed parts of China, reported the South China Morning Post.

The World Air Quality Index recorded maximum PM2.5 readings ranging from 126 to 196 on Sunday.

That was several times higher than the World Health Organisation's safety limit of 25.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline 'Smog squad to clamp down on polluters'. Print Edition | Subscribe