Paris 2015

Airpocalypse in Beijing as Xi touts a greener China

Cyclists and bikers stop at a traffic light, as buildings are faintly seen, rear, shrouded in a haze of smog in Beijing. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has just pledged his sincere intention to contribute to the success of the Paris climate summit, but China's netizens appear far from convinced, as the smog over China's capital Beijing hits hazardous levels.

On Monday, Xi told world leaders at the COP21 summit in Paris that the country is committed to reducing carbon dioxide per unit of GDP by 60-65 percent over the 2005 level and raising the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption.

"This requires strenuous efforts, but we have confidence and resolve to fulfill our commitments," he told delegates at the conference.

He also touted the installed capacity of renewable energy in China, which accounts for 24 percent of the world totally now.

Xi's pledges have taken an ironic twist, however. While Xi has been championing China's green energy credentials, air pollution in Beijing has gone off the charts, hitting hazardous levels this week.

A couple wear face masks in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
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According to China's official pollution gauge from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the measure of PM2.5--concentrations of airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter --was at 500 at 1pm local time on Tuesday, a measure that indicates "serious pollution".

Over at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, its pollution gauge measures air quality as "beyond index" at 588 at 2pm local time.

Air pollution in Beijing is a thorny social and political issue for the Chinese government as it now faces the consequences of three decades of explosive growth that has been driving the use of smog-causing coal in steel-making and power generation.

The grey skies hanging over the capital as Xi made his climate assurances led to plenty of cynical Weibo posts from Beijing residents, who contrasted the smog with the clear, "parade blue" color of the sky during the country's celebrations in September this year marking the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.

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To ensure optimal clarity in air quality in the lead-up to a massive parade commemorating the historical event, hundreds of factories were shut during this period, while half of Beijing's five million registered cars were banned from the streets.

It was not the first time Beijing residents were treated to rare blue skies.

In December 2014, authorities also shut factories and motorways during a two-week gather of world leaders at Beijing's APEC summit, prompting the coining of the term "APEC blue" to describe the rare azure.

A weibo user "chitudoubuchitudousi" said "Why is everyone just focusing on how bad the smog is, but not asking the question: who should be accountable for this? How was 'APEC blue' created? How was 'parade blue' created? We can shut factories down to make ourselves look good at big international events, but we can't regulate heavy industries and clean up the pollution for the safety and health of our people."

Another user Corrina said: "This is the weather we have in Beijing, or maybe across the country. Why are people not paying attention to the COP21? Instead, everyone is so happy about the RMB being included in the SDR but can we actually live long enough to enjoy the economic prosperity this time next year?"

Lin Qianluo wrote: "I will stay here for a few more years and make more money before going back to Weifang. The smog in Beijing is just too terrible."

Additional reporting by Penny Chen

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