China issues €350bn anti-pollution plan as smog woes mount

Pollution readings in Beijing off the chart as alert around capital held at ‘orange’ status

People dance to exercise in a park in smog-enveloped in Beijing on Wednesday. Photograph: Reuters

People dance to exercise in a park in smog-enveloped in Beijing on Wednesday. Photograph: Reuters

 

China has issued a five-year anti-pollution plan aimed at curbing the use of coal, just as smog in Beijing reaches alarming levels.

The country’s national meteorological centre issued its first ever national red alert for “severe fog” this week, but the smog alert around the capital has been held at “orange” status.

Beijing skies began the day on Thursday with a reading just shy of “beyond index”, which is above 500 shown on the Air Matters mobile phone app used by many in the city. By evening, the reading had come back down to 264, or “very unhealthy”. Any reading above 100 is “unhealthy”.

Under the National Energy Administration’s 13th five-year plan, world-leading levels of investment in renewable energy will be maintained. China plans to invest 2.5 trillion yuan (€350 billion) in the renewables sector over the five years.

The proportion of coal in the energy mix is targeted to fall from 64 per cent in 2015 to 58 per cent by 2020.

Yuan Ying of Greenpeace East Asia’s climate and energy campaign, described the plan as a framework to advance the transition away from coal and towards renewable energy.

“To make this a reality, however, China must push for more installation of wind and solar and get serious about tackling the enormous wastage of clean energy, which will also help propel a faster reduction in coal consumption,” she said.

Winter deterioration

The advent of winter always leads to a deterioration in air quality in China as coal-fired power stations start cranking up to provide energy to meet heating demand.

At the same time as the alerts were issued, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said air quality had actually been improving steadily as a result of the “war on pollution” that began in 2014.

The pollution has led to delayed or cancelled flights, and there have been reports of links between metals in smog and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which has caused alarm.

Within Beijing itself, the southwestern area had the worst quality of air in the city and the northeast region enjoyed the best, according to the Beijing News.

The government has introduced a number of measures in recent years, including stricter emission curbs on power plants and traffic controls.

Since the new measures were introduced, the environmental protection bureau said levels of the deadly fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, in the city’s atmosphere have decreased by 9.9 per cent in the past three years.

The bureau said air quality was of a required standard on 198 days during 2016 in Beijing. On 39 days the city was “heavily polluted”.

At the weekend, a cruise ship en route to South Korea and Japan from the northern Chinese port town of Tianjin with more than 2,000 tourists aboard drifted at sea near Tianjin due to the heavy smog. Air quality is set to improve on Sunday night with the arrival of a strong cold front.

China’s ministry of environmental protection said nearly 62 per cent of monitored Chinese cities suffered from air pollution.