Over 70 per cent of Chinese companies near Beijing fail pollution tests

China steps up enforcement as part of efforts to boost environmental standing

Commuters wear masks on a polluted day in Beijing.  Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

Commuters wear masks on a polluted day in Beijing. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

 

Nearly 71 per cent of companies inspected by Chinese pollution watchdogs in Beijing and the surrounding region failed environmental standards, with problems ranging from excessive emissions to insufficient pollution control equipment.

The inspections took place over two months across 28 cities in the infamously smoggy Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and found that 13,785 companies – or 70.6 per cent of those inspected – violated standards, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Chinese air quality has been relatively benign for the past couple of weeks. There were pristine skies for the One Belt, One Road forum attended by 28 heads of state in May, followed by dire pollution, but since that episode, the air has been better than usual for the time of year.

China is the world’s biggest polluter and the central government declared war on pollution nearly five years ago, after decades of breakneck economic growth led to choking pollution in the cities, contaminated most of the country’s main waterways and poisoned soil in territories near factories.

Efforts to combat environmental degradation are often fitful at best, with authorities enthusiastically enforcing strict environmental protection policies but then easing up, and many companies adopting measures but then giving up once they sense official pressure is waning.

Emission failures

Inspectors investigating the region exposed 4,703 companies with unauthorised locations, lacking relevant certificates, and failing to meet emission standards, Xinhua reported.

Of these, 2,000 companies were in the wood-processing and furniture production industries.

The areas tested form part of the enormous “Jing-jin-ji” development area which aims to integrate the adjoining cities of Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding Hebei region into a giant megalopolis.

There has been widespread relocation of heavy industry away from the capital and other cities in the region, but geographic positioning means the air often fails to clear unless there is considerable wind, and the air can be hazardous and foul for days at a time.

For a long time, complaints about the air quality were largely confined to expatriates and Chinese who had spent considerable time overseas, but growing awareness of the environment has brought issue to the top of the agenda.

The ruling Communist Party has made combatting pollution a priority to ensure that it does not become a destabilising political issue.

China has also signed up as a leading member of the Paris Accord on climate change, and, spotting an opportunity to burnish its international standing, has worked to boost its environmental credentials still further after US president Donald Trump said he would take the US out of the pact.

A major issue remains China’s reliance on coal-fired electricity to combat smog. Coal remains far and away the country’s primary source of electricity, although efforts to introduce renewable sources of energy have made considerable progress.