China’s Airpocalypse: The Country Declares Red Alert

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – China declared a red alert under the four-tier alert system, adopted a little over two years ago, on December 7. Although pollution levels were far from the city's worst, this is the first time an alert - the highest possible warning level - has been issued. It was scheduled to last until a cold front arrived to clear the smog. This action comes as China, the world's worst polluter, is taking part in talks on carbon emissions in Paris. Schools in Beijing closed and outdoor construction was halted as the Chinese capital's first ever pollution ‘red alert’ came into effect. Limits have been placed on car use and some factories have been ordered to stop operations. Greenpeace also called on Beijing to issue a red alert, after four days of what it called “Airpocalypse”.

Beijing's Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection warned that severe pollution would affect the Chinese capital for several days. Coal-powered industries and heating systems, as well as vehicle emissions and dust from construction sites, all contributed to this thick smog, which has been aggravated by humidity and a lack of wind. Heavy vehicles, including garbage trucks, were banned from the streets, while other polluting industrial activity was curbed, including fireworks and outdoor barbecuing.

It has been reported that in some parts of Beijing, people can only see around 200m. The air is also packed with poisonous particles; people could become ill simply from being outside. Air pollution monitors showed areas of Beijing had more than 256 micrograms per cubic metre of the poisonous particles. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says anything over 25 micrograms is considered unsafe.

In 2010, China overtook the U.S. to become both the biggest producer and biggest consumer of energy in the world. Its government has been applauded by some for its commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and to cut is peak emissions in half by 2030. The crisis is even more severe in the regions surrounding Beijing, where hundreds of millions of tons of coal are still being burned each year even as the capital tries to slash its use of the fossil fuel.

In the meantime, at the Paris climate change summit, China, India, Brazil and South Africa joined forces to insist that richer countries rather than developing nations should bear the brunt of responsibility in any future agreement to tackle global warming. The four nations, known as the BASIC countries, announced that any deal must not alter the basic principle of differing responsibilities among richer and poorer countries. The issue has become one of the contentious themes at the Paris talks.

Photo Credit: