Heavy smog wraps N. China as Paris climate talks kick off
NORTHERN China choked under some of the worst smog this year yesterday, with Beijing's pollution soaring to 22 times above healthy limits, triggering the city's second-highest air alert as global climate change talks kick off in Paris.
Thick haze blanketed cities across the country after President Xi Jinping arrived in Paris for the talks where China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will be central to discussions.
Concentration of PM2.5, tiny airborne particles which embed deeply in the lungs, reached over 560 micrograms per cubic metre in the capital, according to the United States Embassy - well over the recommended maximum of 25 micrograms.
Levels in several cities in neighbouring Hebei province were also well above 500, official figures showed, more than 20 times the World Health Organisation's advised limit for daily exposure.
"You can't even see people standing directly in front of you," wrote one disgruntled commuter on Chinese Twitter-equivalent Sina Weibo. "It feels like even the subway station is full of haze."
Several hundred highway toll gates were forced to close in nearby Shandong province as visibility fell to less than 200m, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Beijing issued an orange-level pollution alert over the weekend, the highest of the year, with residents advised to stay indoors and some industrial plants ordered shut.
China has a four-tier warning system. Red, indicating the most severe pollution, is almost never used.
Visibility in the capital was so poor yesterday that the tops of skyscrapers were largely obscured from view at ground level.
Many pedestrians chose to forgo masks, even though PM2.5 can play a role in heart disease and lung ailments.
The pollution has been linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, and is becoming a major source of popular discontent with the government.
Beijing's severe pollution follows a bout of record-breaking smog in northeastern China last month, when PM2.5 levels reached 1,400 micrograms per cubic metre in the city of Shenyang - the highest registered.
Such outbreaks are common across China. Greenpeace in a recent study found nearly 80 per cent of the country's cities to have had pollution levels that "greatly exceeded" national standards over the first nine months of this year.
Mr Xi is in Paris for the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP21) summit, which aims to strike a global deal limiting dangerous climate change.
The summit kicks off nearly a fortnight of talks intended to end two decades of international bickering with a pact that would limit emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.
Negotiators have vowed to forge an ambitious deal to honour the 130 people killed in the Nov 13 bombing and shooting attacks that shook the French capital.
China is estimated to have released between nine billion and 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2013, nearly twice as much as the US and around 21/2 times the European Union.
It pledged last year to peak carbon dioxide output by "around 2030" - suggesting at least another decade of growing emissions.
Most of the country's carbon emissions come from coal burning in power factories and homes - which spikes in winter along with demand for heating, which also causes smog.
Beijing's severe pollution is expected to last until a cold front arrives today, the city's environmental protection bureau said on its website.