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China's 'Airpocalypse' Prompts Official Pledge to Cut Pollution

Dangerous levels of small-particulate matter, primarily the result of coal-burning power plants, is reported in China and India, the world's No. 1 and No. 3 polluters.
Foto di How Hwee Young

China will lower emissions from major polluting power plants by 60 percent by 2020, Chinese officials announced on Wednesday. The commitment comes amidst ongoing climate change negotiations in Paris and renewed public health concerns about elevated smog levels in Beijing and other Chinese cities.

The country will also cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants by 180 tons per year by 2020, officials said.


Chinese officials did not provide details on how the goals would be met.

In Paris, Christina Figueres, head of the UN's climate change agency, said that although she not seen the announcement, it's probably linked to expectations that China would cap its coal consumption by 2020.

"I can only assume they are talking about the same thing," she told Reuters.

On Monday the Paris climate summit opened with the capitals of two of the world's leading carbon emitters shrouded in choking smog.

In Beijing, the capital of the world's most populous country and its No. 1 source of planet-warming carbon compounds, Greenpeace China called the thick haze the worst pollution of the year.

"Authorities have issued an orange alert and recommended that residents stay indoors," the organization posted on its Facebook page, snarkily adding #coalisamazing — a hashtag originally launched by Australia's coal industry to promote the fuel.

WOW: these photos of Beijing were taken within a day of each other #CoalCap #EndCoal

— Greenpeace East Asia (@GreenpeaceEAsia) November 30, 2015

Beijing's small-particulate matter readings topped 500 micrograms per cubic meter on Monday, a reading scores of times beyond safety standards in the United States and Europe. And in India, No. 2 in population and No. 3 in emissions, US Embassy monitors in New Delhi recorded pollution levels over 400 — a figure well into hazardous territory.


Smog in Beijing has reached the worst levels this year. (Photo by Rolex Dela Pena/EPA)

Electric power lines are obscured by hazy on the outskirts of Beijing. (Photo by How Hwee Young/EPA)

Both booming countries rely heavily on coal for power and heat, and stalled winds kept the smoke from those sources hanging over each capital. That reliance is also casting a shadow over the efforts in Paris, where leaders from both countries are attending the UN climate summit.

China has set aggressive targets for reducing emissions in the coming decade, and the ruling Communist Party has vowed to tackle the massive environmental problems that came with its emergence as an industrial power. But while India has vowed to boost its reliance on renewable energy, its leaders say it will still need to rely heavily on fossil fuels for its development.

"Just because technology exists does not mean it is affordable and accessible," Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in the Financial Times on Sunday.

This is how bad the pollution is right now in Noida. Standing right in front of my home & can't even see it.

— Rezaul Hasan Laskar (@Rezhasan) November 29, 2015

— KABIR BEDI (@iKabirBedi) November 29, 2015

Related: Why the Paris Climate Summit Is a Really Big Deal

Follow VICE News coverage of the Paris Climate Summit here