China Energy Industry

China’s smog battle ongoing but skies are clearer for Beijing

The problem of smog is declining faster in Beijing than elsewhere in China, where air pollution remains at hazardous levels, reports Greenpeace. Chinese authorities, meanwhile, are making a “big deal” of going after small-time or individual polluters rather than industrial polluters. Why the smoke screen?

Government emergency measures to clear Beijing airways for important events, such as the 2014 APEC summit and a military parade by the People’s Liberation Army earlier this year, are effective and have had an impact on China’s notorious “airpocalypse” smog crisis. But levels of PM2.5 particulates – very tiny particulate matter small enough to lodge deep in human lungs – are still high in China’s industrial regions, says Greenpeace.

A report by Radio Free Asia on these findings notes that smog in China’s capital is down 15 percent compared with the same period last year but air pollution levels for almost 80 percent of the country’s 376 cities remains at hazardous levels. [See: China’s Battle Against Smog Patchy Amid Clearer Skies in Beijing]

Air quality in Beijing actually met national air quality standards for the first time ever after authorities limited the city’s road traffic, slashed coal production and forced factories and construction sites to close in the lead-up to the September PLA military display to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The emergency sky scrub efforts that produce the phenomenon of clear skies have been dubbed “parade blue”, “APEC blue” and so on by Chinese Netizens, who are also cynical of government crackdowns on small-time and private polluters.

For instance, to clear autumn skies, authorities in central China’s Henan province banned the practice of stubble-burning for two weeks – a cheap and low-effort method farmers employ to clear their fields of crop debris, pests and weeds – which constitutes a contributing factor to the country’s complex smog problem. Nevertheless, as Chinese environmental activist Wu Lihong points out, reports Radio Free Asia:

“Of course there is some damage done by stubble-burning … but they used to burn stubble in the fields when I was a kid, and we didn’t have the smog problem then.”

Wu attributes China’s spectacular rise in smog since he was a child to the growth in industry, and, in particular, heavy polluting industries (such as coal and chemical plants), as well as a leap in car use. “It was all bikes” back then, he says.

Like the country’s Netizens, Nu has noticed that authorities make a “big deal” of “blaming ordinary people for causing pollution with their stubble-burning,” which he says serves as a distraction from its larger cause: industry.

“A tangle of vested interests between polluting enterprises and local officials have made pollution an intractable problem in China,” says Wu. Lower levels of government, he adds, rely on the income generated by these industries and, as such, official pollution data is subject to manipulation by officials who must juggle conflicting interests: that of polluting industries and the need to improve statistics on pollution in their area.

Continue reading at the publisher’s website here

Further Reading

Saving China’s environment

Distorted economy dooms China to an “airpocalypse”

“Under the Dome” and China’s “real blue sky”

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