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January 21, 2016

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Pollution falls in most Chinese cities

AIR pollution levels fell in most Chinese cities last year, environmental group Greenpeace said yesterday, but a humid and windless winter shrouded swaths of the country in choking smog, slowing improvement in the second half.

However, nearly 300 Chinese cities still failed to meet national standards for air quality in 2015, it said.

The national average concentration of PM2.5 — particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs — was 50.2 parts per cubic meter, exceeding the World Health Organization’s guideline of an annual average of less than 10 micrograms.

China allows for a yearly average of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. None of the 366 cities in the Greenpeace survey met WHO standards.

Decades of growth-at-all-costs economic development has spawned massive air quality problems, Greenpeace said.

Shanghai was among the cities where air quality worsened, with its average PM2.5 concentration increasing 3.14 percent over 2014 figures, according to Greenpeace.

“Greenpeace recommends Shanghai to implement a solid coal consumption cap target and aggressive measures to solve the air pollution problem,” said Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Dong Liansa.

In December, Beijing issued its first air pollution “red alerts” when a blanket of humid, still air trapped haze over the capital.

“Despite Beijing’s choking winter of red alerts, data from 2015 clearly shows a continued positive trend in Beijing and across the country,” Dong said. “However, air quality across China is still a major health hazard.”

Annual average levels of PM2.5 dropped by 10.3 percent last year compared with 2014, Greenpeace said in its report.

In the first half of the year, PM2.5 concentrations were down 16 percent from the corresponding 2014 period, the group reported.

Beijing’s fourth-quarter pollution woes were mirrored elsewhere in northern China, where concentrations of PM2.5 were significantly higher than in 2013 and 2014, the Greenpeace report revealed.

Even so, Beijing was among the cities Greenpeace analyzed where air pollution improved overall last year. That was a sign the capital’s “serious efforts” to curb pollution were paying off, Dong said.

China has worked to toughen environmental protection laws in recent years. Amended legislation took effect this month giving authorities more power to punish the companies and officials responsible for violations.

Some local authorities, including Beijing, have been trying to limit emissions and forcing polluting factories to close or move.

Beijing had 26 days of “heavy air pollution” in the final three months of last year, according to Greenpeace.

South of the capital, Baoding in the industrial heartland of Hebei Province was China’s second most polluted city in 2015.

The most polluted city was Kashgar in the far western region of Xinjiang, which is often hit by dust and sand storms.

The Greenpeace report is based on Ministry of Environmental Protection data.


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