Beijing battles smog as Asian leaders gather for Apec economic summit

Factories work around clock to make up for pollution-related stoppages

Pollution was back in the headlines ahead of this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit, as the Chinese government scrambled to clean the air before regional leaders arrived in the capital for the meeting.

Despite restrictions, factories were said to be operating 24/7 to make up production before a shutdown for the duration of the Apec meeting, causing further problems for the Beijing air.

Last week was a grim week of data about China’s pollution problems. It felt like the pre-Olympics drive to clear the foul air before the event. One of the measures introduced was a ban on people burning clothes of dead relatives – a traditional funeral rite to ensure their relatives can dress in the afterlife.

In neighbouring Hebei province, more than 2,000 companies stopped production, while nearly 2,500 building sites halted construction. The country's reliance on coal for 70 per cent of its energy needs contributed to 670,000 deaths in 2012 from smog-related causes.

Environmental cost

The

South China Morning Post

quoted

Teng Fei

, an associate professor at

Tsinghua University

, saying that the health cost and the environmental cost of mining and transporting coal was 260 yuan (€34) per tonne of coal produced and used in that year.

“With existing environmental fees and taxes of between 30 (€3.93) to 50 yuan (€6.55) for each tonne of coal, the country’s current pricing system has largely failed to reflect the true costs,” Teng said.

While coal energy is the biggest offender, United States environment group the Natural Resources Defence Council pointed out in a report that the thousands of ships in China’s ports were also heavy polluters.

One ship is capable of emitting the same pollution as half a million trucks each day. Seven of the world’s 10 largest ports are in China, with more than a quarter of the planet’s maritime cargo passing through the country.

The heavily populated coastal cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen are among the most polluted.