A pall of pollution shrouds Beijing. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Beijing’s city government Monday issued its first red alert for air pollution, with the Chinese capital going into shutdown. Because of hazardous air quality, schools have been ordered to close, outdoor construction was halted, and car use was restricted.

The city’s Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection warned that severe pollution will cover the Chinese capital starting Tuesday and will last about three days. The city is currently under an orange alert, the second-highest level.

Most of the country’s carbon emissions come from the burning of coal to fuel power plants and heat homes. Coal-burning spikes during the cold winter months.

The Independent reports:

It is the first time ever that the highest possible state of caution has been declared in the city, which has more than 21 million residents.

In some parts of Beijing, people can only see around 200m. The air is also packed with poisonous particles that mean that people could become ill simply from being outside.

Air pollution monitors showed areas of Beijing had more than 256 micrograms per cubic metre of the poisonous particles. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says anything over 25 micrograms is considered unsafe.

The poisonous smog in Beijing is caused by the burning of coal for industry and heating, and huge amounts of dust from the city’s many construction sites. The problem is being made yet worse by high humidity and low wind.

Last week, Greenpeace called on Beijing to issue a red alert, after four days of what it called “Airpocalypse”.

“The city is blanketed in a thick, choking smog that has covered an area of North China the size of Spain and Beijing’s most famous landmarks have been completely obscured by the yellow haze,” wrote Zhang Kai on the group’s blog.

Greenpeace praised the Orange Alert that had been declared for putting restrictions on construction and industry, but said that it was “clearly not enough”.

“At this level of response, schools and kindergartens can remain open, meaning that children are risking their health in order to attend class and car emissions haven’t been restricted at all,” the group wrote.

Read more here.

The alert comes as China, the world’s largest polluter, takes part in talks on carbon emissions in Paris. “China’s air quality is a key factor in its push for a new global deal on climate change,” according to the BBC. “Its negotiators … point to their continued investment in renewable sources of energy, in an effort to cut down on coal consumption, particularly in urban areas. Around 58% of the increase in the country’s primary energy consumption in 2013-14 came from non-fossil fuel sources.

“These efforts to go green may not be having an immediate effect on the air in Beijing but they have had an impact on global output of carbon dioxide. This year’s figures, just published, show carbon levels have stalled or declined slightly even while the world economy has expanded.”

“A strong agreement here in Paris,” the BBC continues, “won’t immediately solve China’s air woes, but if it ultimately pushes down the price of renewables even further, it could play a part in solving the issue long term.”

–Posted by Roisin Davis

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