Smoggy Chinese New Year expected in northern China

People wearing masks cycling past Tiananmen Gate during the smog after a red alert was issued for heavy air pollution in Beijing, China, on Dec 20, 2016.
People wearing masks cycling past Tiananmen Gate during the smog after a red alert was issued for heavy air pollution in Beijing, China, on Dec 20, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

Poor air quality could disrupt travel; some cities getting tough on use of fireworks that could worsen pollution

BEIJING • China expects smoggy skies this week and on the first day of Chinese New Year, just two weeks after the latest bout of severe air pollution engulfed northern parts of the country.

Worsening pollution will engulf four northern Chinese provinces, including Hebei province which surrounds Beijing, from yesterday through to Thursday, said China's National Environment Monitoring Centre.

It issued the warning late on Sunday via its official WeChat account.

After a slight respite on Friday, the air quality is predicted to deteriorate again on Saturday, the first day of the Chinese New Year, with moderate to high levels of air pollution and patches of severe smog across the region.

Hundreds of millions of people are criss-crossing China to visit family and friends over the festive period, with the government predicting nearly three billion trips.

A railway official has warned that prolonged periods of smog might disrupt rail services during the annual Spring Festival travel rush.

Efforts to clean up the skies in the industrial heartland are being thwarted by the coal-burning industry and indoor heating, which increases during China's winter months.

Reduced industry and traffic during the festive period should help keep the pollution levels down, but fireworks and firecrackers could push levels higher by one or two grades in certain localities, the monitoring centre said.

To combat an explosion of smog from fireworks, the authorities in Beijing have limited sales to a handful of licensed sellers; central Henan province has banned their use in all cities and towns; and Hebei's Baoding city is threatening to detain anyone setting off fireworks outside of the four days of celebrations.

Air quality in north China remains "especially severe" and worse than the national average, with only 60 per cent of all days being considered good quality last year, compared with a national level of 78.8 per cent, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said at a work report press conference last Friday.

Premier Li Keqiang has pledged to wage war on air pollution, and a goal of more than 80 per cent good air days in major cities by 2020 has been written into China's latest five-year plan.

Good air days in China are when concentrations of PM2.5, fine particulate matter, are below 75 micrograms per cubic m.

The World Health Organisation recommends an annual mean exposure to PM2.5 no greater than 10 micrograms per cubic m.

Nine of the 10 smoggiest Chinese cities last year were in northern China, and six of these were in Hebei, while the best-performing cities listed were all along the southern coast, including Shenzhen, Xiamen and Zhuhai, the MEP said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2017, with the headline 'Smoggy Chinese New Year expected in northern China'. Print Edition | Subscribe