Second red smog alert as Beijing’s air quality deteriorates


The second smog red alert in a month has been issued in Beijing as the city braces itself for days of extreme pollution.

With concentrations of PM2.5 particles reaching more than 500 micrograms per cubic metre, over 20 times more than is considered safe by the World Health Organisation, visibility across the capital is expected to drop to less than 1,600 feet on Tuesday when the smog spell is expected to culminate.

Attributed mostly to the excessive reliance on coal for energy generation and domestic heating, the smog situation is made worse by the lack of wind in the region.

Chinese authorities have recommended citizens avoid outdoor activities and have put restrictions in place limiting the use of cars to every second day based on the last digit of the licence plate.

China, which put a new air pollution warning system in place four years ago, only issued its first red alert eleven days ago. Smog red alerts are triggered when pollution levels are expected to reach over 200 micrograms of PM2.5 particles per cubic metre for at least 72 straight hours.

China’s air pollution, which according to some estimates kills 1.4 million people each year, is a legacy of decades of heavy coal use and industrial development.

Currently the world’s biggest carbon emitter, China plans to reduce hazardous emissions from coal-fired power plants by 50 per cent over the next five years, and says its overall emissions will peak by about 2030 before starting to decline.

China still depends on coal for more than 60 per cent of its electricity but is in the process of shifting to nuclear, solar and wind power.

The Beijing environment bureau said the red alert would last from 7am Saturday to midnight on Tuesday, local time. The official Xinhua news agency said the smog would be worse than last week.

“Parts of north China will see the worst smog so far this year from Saturday,” it said, citing the National Meteorological Centre.

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