Air pollution has made Beijing ‘unliveable’, says city’s mayor

Data shows 66 out of 74 cities in China fall short of standards for allowable concentrations of pollutants

Beijing, China: data shows seven out of 10 cities with the dirtiest air are in Hebei province around the capital. Photograph: Wu Hong/EPA

It was a bad week for China in its efforts to control air pollution, after the mayor of Beijing described how smog had rendered the city "unliveable" and data from the environmental protection ministry showed 90 per cent of Chinese cities failed to meet government standards.

The city with the most polluted air in China was Baoding, 150km southwest of Beijing, which has a population of 11 million people.

‘War on pollution’

The list showed that 66 out of 74 cities in China fell short of government standards for allowable concentrations of pollutants, and seven out of 10 cities with the dirtiest air were in



province around Beijing. The other three cities were Tianjin, Jinan and



Last year, China declared “war on pollution” amid growing dissatisfaction about the foul air in most Chinese cities and fears about the long-term health effects.

Part of the problem is China’s reliance on coal – consumption in Hebei reached 313 million tons in 2012 and is a major contributor to smog.

Grim as the data are, there has been an improvement from 2013, when 96 per cent of the surveyed cities failed to meet standards.

According to the ministry data, the average reading of fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health in the air, the so-called PM2.5 (short for “Particulate Matter up to 2.5 micrometres in size”), stood at 93 micrograms per cubic metre last year. The state standard is 35 micrograms but China does not expect to bring the national average down to that level before 2030.

Beijing mayor Wang Anshun said last month that urban issues like air pollution and traffic congestion were making Beijing "unliveable" and said that the municipality, which had 21 million people, would persist with efforts to make it a more habitable place.

“This year our focus is on the functions and industries that are against our strategic positioning. We’ll make a list of them all and strictly control them,” said Mr Wang.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing