World Health Organisation declares smog crisis in China

Beijing’s smog so dense that some skyscrapers can’t be seen.

By Anders Lorenzen


It’s an issue that keeps popping up, questioning China’s rapid economic growth and the health implications thereof. Now again, China has landed in the headlines for failing to control their air pollution.


Following prolonged smog conditions in China’s capital Beijing, the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week declared the smog situation a crisis and warned of serious health implications. Chinese authorities are warning people to stay indoors and if they have to go out to wear a mask.


The pollution levels in the capital of the world’s most populous country had reached levels of 450 on an index on air quality levels, which is nine times the safe levels for human beings. The smog is so dense that it’s impossible to tell whether it’s cloudy or the sun is shining and many of Beijing’s skyscrapers cannot be seen due to the smog.


Despite the Chinese government starting to address the air quality issues posed by heavy industry, coal power burning and an explosion of cars on China’s roads, all which are now starting to be meet with legislation – the effects are not being seen yet – instead it’s getting worse. Several Chinese states have, or are planning to, enforce carbon tax schemes and strict penalty systems have also been put in place to restrict pollution. China are also installing a record amount of renewable energy to reduce their reliance on polluting coal burning.


So why then is it not getting better? In several Chinese states corruption is still dominant, heavy industries are important to local economies – so fines for pollution and restricting it as central government has ordered simply has not happened. Also carbon tax schemes that have been put in place, are either only in trial mode or have not been running long enough to make an impact. While no other countries are adding more renewable capacity to the grid than China, questions are asked if renewable capacity is added too quickly. Many wind farms are being put up without any connection to the grid, in some cases it seems that the infrastructure isn’t quite ready for it yet.


People in China are becoming increasingly unhappy about the smog crisis which has both health and economic implications. A man in the city of Shijiazhuang in Northern China has taken the step to sue the government. Li Guixin has filed a complaint with the district court in Hebei near Beijing, saying that he wants authorities to do more about the thick blanket of smog. He is also claiming compensation.

WHO representative in China, Bernhard Schwartlander, has stated that the smog situation is a crisis and said there is clear evidence that it can lead to lung cancer.

Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

Related news:
Opinion: China and the Arctic
Guest blog: Is Dirty Air Suffocating Your Life?

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