Beijing under a cloud of pollution in the midst of COP26

The city of Beijing closed its playgrounds on Friday due to air pollution, at a time when China is increasing its coal production in the midst of COP26 on climate change. China, the world’s largest polluter, is under fire at the international conference underway in Glasgow, due to the absence of President Xi Jinping.

At a time when states must negotiate a reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions, China announced this week that it has increased its production of coal by one million tonnes per day. The country, which depends 60% on hard coal for its electricity production, has faced power cuts in recent months and has increased its coal extraction accordingly. In this context, a thick fog covered the Chinese capital on Friday, where visibility was reduced to 200 meters in places according to the national weather forecast.

Fine particles by mass

Sections of highways to major cities across the country were closed due to insufficient visibility. Local authorities blamed the phenomenon on “adverse weather conditions and regional spread of pollution”, specifying that the episode should continue at least until Saturday evening. But “the fundamental cause of the pollution fog in the North of China is the combustion of fossil fuels”, assured Li Danqing, of the environmental association Greenpeace.

Schools in the capital have been ordered to suspend sports lessons and all outdoor activities. The presence of fine particles was evaluated at around 230, a “very unhealthy” level, by the United States Embassy in Beijing, while the WHO recommends not to exceed the threshold of 15. Air pollution s t is markedly attenuated in recent years in Beijing, which is due to host the Winter Olympics next February.

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Denial of the population

The onset of cold weather has led this year to turn on the heating early in the northern regions of the country, fueling pollution. When asked, Beijingers seemed to ignore everything about the UN climate conference and not to worry too much about the pollution episode. “In recent years, the air quality has been very good, with very few foggy days,” said resident Song Ximeng. “This kind of thing rarely happens.”

Absent from Glasgow, President Xi addressed the conference via a written speech. He took the opportunity to call on rich countries to further help developing countries to fight climate change. He has not announced new climate goals for his country. Last year, he promised that China would reach a “peak” of polluting emissions in 2030, before achieving carbon neutrality in 2060.

US President Joe Biden strongly attacked Xi Jinping on Tuesday, believing that he had made “a serious mistake” by not coming to Scotland and that China could not “claim” any leading role by “turning the back ”to the climate crisis.

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