Weather debate shrouded in fog

Updated: 2011-11-02 07:40

By Li Jing, Duan Yan and Cui Jia (China Daily)

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A first step

With continued smoggy days, public pressure has been mounting for the municipal government to monitor and publish results of PM2.5 readings, a goal the country's environmental watchdog says it is pursuing.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has issued a set of national standards for measuring PM2.5 that took effect on Tuesday. Zhao Hualin, a senior official, told a conference in September that the ministry was considering a revision of national air quality standards to include the PM2.5 measurements.

Zhou Rong, an energy and climate campaigner from Greenpeace, said she has learned that the ministry plans to start regulating PM2.5 within five years and that it will set a binding target to reduce the fine particles between 2015 and 2020.

"However, as the pollutants will have a direct impact on the public health, we hope this process can be accelerated," Zhou said.

Studies on the causes of PM2.5 have been under way in China for about a decade, she said. Coal consumption and vehicle exhaust are the major causes, but in different regions their contribution to the pollution varies.

Either way, there will be no easy solutions, although Beijing's municipal government is dedicated to limiting coal consumption and vehicle ownership. It has set a goal to cap annual coal consumption at 20 million tons by 2015. Last year, Beijing burned 27.5 million tons.

"But again, air pollution is a regional problem," Zhou said. "Even if Beijing takes care of its own emissions, it still cannot escape the pollutants discharged by power plants in the neighborhood."

For the old and young

Monitoring and publishing PM2.5 reports will at least help residents better protect themselves, some environmentalists said.

Li Bo, executive director of Beijing-based Friends of Nature, said, "The conditions are not suitable for any kind of sports outdoors. Schools should halt outdoor activities, such as running, to protect our next generation."

Increased pressure from the people asking for better air quality is expected to push government into taking the problem more seriously and attaching a higher priority to cleaning up the air.

"As a Beijing resident, I don't care about what standards the government uses for appraising air quality," said Tian'e Diandian, a Weibo user. "What we need is clean air, so that my parents and my kid can breathe safely."


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