05:41 12.02.2020

China’s Economic Shutdown Hasn’t Brought Blue Skies to Beijing

Source: Bloomberg
China’s Economic Shutdown Hasn’t Brought Blue Skies to Beijing

China is in the midst of an unprecedented economic shutdown, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the gray skies in Beijing.

Pollution in the capital has soared to the highest level in three years, and will likely worsen Thursday before starting to improve on Friday, according to the National Meteorological Center. It’s happening even as most of the usual suspects for smog -- cars, factories and fireworks -- have been crimped by government controls to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s perplexing in part because the government has successfully shut down factories in the past to achieve blue skies in Beijing for events like the 2008 Summer Olympics or the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. It’s not having the same effect this time.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing recorded levels of small particulate pollution at 229 micrograms per cubic meter on Wednesday, nine times higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended daily level of 25. The 30-day average rose to 104 micrograms, the highest level since February 2017.

So what’s the cause? Experts pointed to several possibilities, including residue from natural gas burned at power plants and home heaters, the emissions from what little activity remains at nearby steel mills and industrial facilities, and perhaps the most ordinary of all reasons: the weather.

“The wind direction, the humidity, the meteorological index are all contributing to pollution from not only Beijing but also nearby cities gathering and being trapped in Beijing,” said Ma Jun, director at the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs.

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