China's pollution: The desolation of smog?

Beijing's mayor has come up with a series of measures – including banning all heavily polluting vehicles to punishing officials for lax enforcement – to battle air pollution in China's capital.

AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan
Tourists in masks use mobile phone cameras to snap shots of themselves during a heavily polluted day on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Thursday.

Beijing's mayor pledged Thursday to cut coal use by 2.6 million tons and set aside 15 billion yuan (2.4 billion dollars) to improve air quality this year as part of the city's "all-out effort" to tackle air pollution, according to China's state news agency Xinhua.

The announcement by Beijing's Mayor Wang Anshun, came as the capital was blanketed in its worst smog in months.

An index measuring PM2.5 particles, especially bad for health, reached 500 in much of the capital in the early hours.A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

Coal-burning boilers inside Beijing's fifth ring road - covering the built-up area of the city - will be eliminated and measures taken against coal burning in the capital's periphery, Wang told Xinhua.

The city also aims to ban all heavily polluting vehicles this year, cut new car registrations and promote new energy vehicles, Wang said.
Beijing reported 58 days of serious pollution last year, or one every six to seven days on average, Zhang Dawei, director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center told Xinhua.

China had shut down 8,347 heavily polluting companies last year in northern Hebeiprovince, which has the worst air in the country, as the government moves to tackle a problem that has been a source of discontent, according to, Xinhua.

Local authorities will block new projects and punish officials in regions where pollution is severe due to lax enforcement, Xinhua cited Yang Zhiming, deputy director of the Hebei provincial bureau of environmental protection, as saying.

High pollution levels have sparked widespread public anger and officials concerned about social unrest have responded by implementing tougher policies.
Based on statistics published monthly by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Xinhua said that Hebei, the country's biggest steel producer, is home to as many as seven of its 10 most polluted cities.

Pollution in Hebei often spreads to neighbouring Beijing and Tianjin.Some small high-polluting plants are being relocated to remote areas to avoid oversight, Zhiming told Xinhua .He added the government would "beef up the industrial crackdown".

China has drawn up dozens of laws and guidelines to improve the environment but has struggled to enforce them in the face of powerful enterprises.

On Wednesday, China's commercial capital, Shanghai, introduced emergency measures, allowing it to shut schools and order cars off the road in case of severe smog.Hebei plans to slash crude steel output by 15 million tons in 2014 and cut coal consumption by the same amount as part of anti-pollution measures. 
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Alison Williams)

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