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China’s air pollution woes need a greater clean-up push, environmental groups say

On the first day of 2017, Beijing suffered its first severe haze disaster of the new year. At the same time, more than 20 Chinese cities declared orange alert of air pollution.
Zhang Peng | LightRocket | Getty Image
On the first day of 2017, Beijing suffered its first severe haze disaster of the new year. At the same time, more than 20 Chinese cities declared orange alert of air pollution.

Two environment watchdog groups gave a cautious nod to China's efforts to tackle hazardous air pollution levels in the capital Beijing and elsewhere, but urged greater national coordination to avoid waiting three decades to meet healthy national air quality standards.

Greenpeace East Asia and the Shanghai Qingyue Environmental Protection Center, a Chinese environment organization, released a report on Tuesday that painted a somber picture of air quality standards in the world's second largest economy.

Beijing will meet national standards for PM 2.5 — tiny particles in the air that are especially harmful if they enter the bloodstream— in 2027, and the World Health Organization standard by 2046, the report said

"At the current rate of improvement, red alerts and 'airpocalypses' will remain a feature of many Chinese citizens' lives for sometime to come," said Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Dong Liansai in a press release.

China has worked to shut coal-fired power plants and vowed a national pledge for better air quality, but the second half of 2016 saw "slowing progress" in the northern region of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, with average PM2.5 concentrations higher in October 2016 than a year ago, while December saw the second worst air pollution on record, noted the two organizations.

PM2.5 particles are particulate matter small enough to enter the body through the lungs and make their way into the bloodstream, potentially contributing to health concerns.

The pollution in the region is primarily caused by coal-burning for industry use in provinces south of Beijing as a March government stimulus package triggered increased industrial activities in these regions, noted the two.

The cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou will fare better than Beijing in meeting the national environment standard, meeting the goals in 2019 and 2017 respectively, the two organizations added.

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