RISK: Beijing issues its first-ever red alert for smog

Most of the pollution is blamed on coal-fired power plants

Beijing issued its first-ever red alert for smog today, meaning authorities have forecast more than three consecutive days of severe smog.

Officials are urging schools to close and have invoked restrictions on factories and traffic to keep half of the city’s vehicles off the roads. The city will add extra subway trains and buses to handle the additional strain on public transport.

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An online notice from the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said it issued the alert to “protect public health and reduce levels of heavy air pollution.”

Readings of PM2.5 particles climbed toward 300 micrograms per cubic meter on Monday and are expected to continue rising before the air begins to improve with the arrival of a cold front on Thursday. The World Health Organization designates the safe level for the tiny, poisonous particles at 25.

It’s the second time this month that notoriously polluted Beijing has experienced a prolonged bout of smog, sending PM2.5 levels in the suburbs as high as 976 micrograms. Beijing was also shrouded in persistent smog for most of November, when power demand soared due to unusually cold weather.

While pollution in the capital improved slightly in the first 10 months of the year, heavy smog that can be seen from outer space regularly forces Beijing schools to suspend outdoor activities and can even prompt highway closures because of reduced visibility.

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Most of the pollution is blamed on coal-fired power plants, along with vehicle emissions and construction and factory work. China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, plans to upgrade coal power plants over the next five years to tackle the problem, and says its emissions will peak by around 2030 before starting to decline.

While emissions standards have been tightened and heavy investments made in solar, wind and other renewable energy, China still depends on coal for more than 60 per cent of its power.

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P.
Transcontinental Media G.P.