What Invaded Beijing?

Standing behind the tightly closed windows, residents of Beijing stare out to the toxic air that is blurred with thick smog. Children are waiting to return to, now empty classrooms, if only the first red alert of the year could calm its hazardous nature. This year’s first heavy air pollution ‘red warning’ was released on December 15, and the emergency measures, including limiting the usage of motor vehicles and suspension of schools, was released on December 16.

Reported by Chinese news agency, Wangyi, Beijing is suffering from the worst pollution level of the year, according to the four-tier system, which is expected to last more than 5 days. China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection reports that 21 other cities across north and central China had also declared pollution red alerts, including Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan, and Zhengzhou. Beijing and, the nearby, Hebei province experienced the worst air pollution, with central and southern Hebei seeing a PM2.5 density of more than 500 micrograms per cubic metre of air, and visibility was reduced to less than 200 metres, the NMC said.

The emergency measure, in which half of city’s private vehicles are ordered to be off of the roads is taken, is in effect, such as in Beijing where, about, 5.7 million registered vehicles, which emit 500,000 tons of pollutants every year that contributes to over 30 percent of the hazardous PM2.5 accumulated locally. Temporary closures are enforced at factories, which advised employees to work flexible hours or remotely. Kindergartens, Primary, and Secondary schools are instructed to suspend classes

China Daily reports that China has a four-tier warning system for severe weather, with red being the most serious, which is issued when a city’s Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches 500, followed by orange, yellow, and blue. Beijing issued its first air pollution alert plan in 2012. Following the increasing social tension and attention from the international community, the Municipal government announced an updated emergency response plan to better address air pollution.

Deputy Director of the Environmental Protection Department, Fang Li, says the government’s measures are effectively alleviating the accumulation of pollution and they are protecting the public’s health. China has put considerable efforts into sustainable development in recent years, as China’s 13th Five-Year plan for 2016-2020 is guided by five principles: innovation, coordination, greening, opening up, and sharing. It indicated that China’s plans for a clean economy, shifting away from carbon-intensive industries, like iron and steel, towards services, while seeking to maintain a robust 6.5 per cent GDP growth rate – the envy of many developed countries.

Researchers estimate that China is already on track to exceed its target of a 40-45 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2005 levels by 2020 and the reduction could be as high as 50 percent. Next year will also see the world’s largest emissions trading scheme being implemented across China when the seven pilot trading systems, which is currently in place, expands to a national level. The largest smog cleanser, ‘smog free tower,’ appeared in Beijing in September this year, which also attracted attention from international media.

However, this is not enough.

Smog is only a microscopic representation of the toxicity we will face if the global community does not act immediately to effectively address the issue of pollution and climate change. The disaster needs to be combated by everyone and can only be solved if all nations stay true to their responsibility. Climate change knows no borders, and if we continue to stay ignorant under the darkly blanketed sky, Beijing will not be the only place that will be invaded.

Lina Na Gyoung Lee