Beijing grinds to halt as second ‘red alert’ issued over smog
China’s capital city issued a “red alert” for pollution on Friday, hard on the heels of its first-ever such warning earlier in December, as Beijing’s leadership vowed to crack down on often hazardous levels of smog.
Authorities in the Chinese capital warned the city would be shrouded by heavy pollution from Saturday until next Tuesday, prompting the highest-level warning that leads to emergency responses such as limiting car use and closing schools.
After decades of unbridled economic growth, China’s leadership has vowed to tackle heavy air, water and soil pollution, including the thick smog that often blankets major cities.
Beijing’s second red alert comes after a landmark climate agreement was reached in Paris in December, setting a course to move away from a fossil fuel-driven economy within decades in a bid to arrest global warming.
The city’s first red alert was issued on December 7, restricting traffic and halting outdoor construction.
The Beijing Meteorological Service said in a statement vehicle use would be severely restricted, and that fireworks and outdoor barbecues would be banned. It also recommended schools cancel classes.
City residents have previously criticised authorities for being too slow to issue red alerts for heavy smog, which often exceeds hazardous levels on pollution indices.
Many cities around China suffer high levels of pollution, with Shanghai schools banning outdoor activities and authorities limiting work at construction sites and factories earlier this week.
Scientific studies attribute 1.4 million premature deaths per year to China’s smog, or almost 4,000 per day.
The environmental protection minister, Chen Jining, vowed in December to punish agencies and officials for any failure to implement a pollution emergency response plan quickly, the state-run Global Times tabloid said.
Eight firms, from a sewage plant in the southern city of Dongguan to a Coca-Cola joint venture in northwestern Gansu province, were accused of using fake figures to hinder or manipulate environment checks, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said on its website.
Special law enforcement teams from the ministry uncovered the cases, it said, adding that the firms “unscrupulously” falsified data, in a bid to evade regulations.
The ministry said some of the companies involved may face criminal lawsuits. Chinese law prescribes jail terms of up to seven years for pollution offenders, state news agency Xinhua said.
Zhao Yanhong, a representative of Coca-Cola in China, said the case involving the joint venture happened in October and was handled by regional authorities, with a detained employee of the joint venture being released after five days.
“We’ve promptly accepted the criticism and rectification,” Zhao added.