China orders factories shut as smog rises

  • 01/12/2015

China has ordered thousands of factories to shut as it grapples with choking smog that's nearly 24 times safe levels, casting a shadow over the country's participation in Paris climate talks.

A thick grey haze shrouded Beijing on Tuesday (local time), with the concentration of PM 2.5, harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, climbing as high as 598 micrograms per cubic metre.

The reading, given by the US embassy, dwarfs the maximum recommended by the World Health Organisation, which is just 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

Levels in Jinan, a provincial capital hundreds of kilometres away, reached over 400.

Authorities in Beijing ordered the closure of 2100 highly polluting businesses, the state-run China Daily said, and advised citizens to stay indoors.

Airlines cancelled over 30 flights from Beijing and Shanghai, many to highly polluted Shaanxi province, a key coal producer.

The environmental woes came after Chinese President Xi Jinping took the stage at crucial international talks aiming to limit dangerous climate change.

He vowed action on greenhouse emissions, repeating existing pledges and telling the summit that poor nations should not have to sacrifice economic growth.

Most emissions come from coal burning which spikes in winter along with demand for heating, which also causes smog.

China is estimated to have released between nine and 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2013, nearly twice as much as the US and around two and a half times the European Union.

Beijing pledged last year that carbon dioxide output would peak by "around 2030" – suggesting at least another decade of growing emissions.

Social media users in China were sceptical about the chances of a clean-up, with many circulating a picture of a Beijing newspaper front page from 1999.

It cited officials as proclaiming: "We absolutely will not let big pollution enter the new century."