Air pollution in northern China increased in early winter as heavy industry sped up production to make up for lost time during the country’s coronavirus crisis, new research shows.
Due to the high levels of pollution, the main regions around the capital Beijing and the northwest capital Xi’an may not meet their air quality targets by the end of the year, according to a report released Thursday. (3) from the Energy and Clean Air Research Center (CREA), an environmental research organization.
The resumption also shows that “creative bookkeeping” in China’s steel industry is hindering efforts to reduce capacity in line with government goals and hindering air quality improvement in one of the most polluting sectors in the country, Report.
He concludes that China’s post-pandemic economic recovery is currently “anything but green” and threatens efforts to diversify the economy and reduce emissions. China is the first major economy to see annual growth since the advent of Covid-19. However, compared to some other countries, the rate of return was less dependent on consumption than on industry.
According to the report, in the region of 28 cities around Beijing that aim to improve air quality, the average daily concentrations of PM 2.5 – ultrafine airborne particles that can be particularly harmful to health – increased 11% in October compared to October Last year and in the two-month period ending in November 2%, despite the government’s target not to achieve year-on-year increases in the last three months of 2020.
Although PM 2.5 levels in a similar area around Shaanxi Provincial capital, Xi’an, decreased 1% year over year from October to November, the numbers lag behind the mandatory 3% annual reduction. in the last quarter of the year, the report said.
Both regions, which cover a large area of heavy industry in interior China, have been the focus of a government campaign to reduce air pollution for several years. However, high-emission cement and steel production has increased significantly since the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis began in China a few months ago.
In the provinces covering the Beijing and Xi’an regions, total cement production increased 14% between July and September, compared with a 3% increase in the rest of the country, indicating greater demand for building materials across the country lay the foundations for China’s recovery, the report said.
In Hebei, a northern province of Beijing, whose steel production is nearly three times that of the entire United States, metal supplies rose 3% year over year in the nine months to September, raising questions about the effectiveness of government efforts to reduce capacity, the report added.
Hebei’s crude steel production in August implies the province has a total capacity of more than 285 million tons per year, well above the 213 million tons per year reported in late 2019. The government has ordered Hebei to reduce capacity to 200 million tons per year by the end of 2020.
The difference between reported capacity and production “makes it clear that the” creative accounting “of steelmaking capacity has reached a level that makes capacity reduction targets completely meaningless,” while hampering efforts to reduce emissions in one of China’s most polluting industries, it said in the report.
The central government has endeavored in recent years to keep an eye on the reduction in capacity. This is compounded by some local officials falsifying statistics while illegally supporting steel and foundry projects to recover from the economic impact of Covid-19, according to an article published last month by a business news agency affiliated with the state-run Xinhua agency .
Calls from China’s environment ministry to tackle air pollution through economic restructuring become “even more important” as the country seeks zero net carbon emissions by 2060, said Lauri Myllyvirta, chief analyst at CREA and co-author of the report.
“The continued increase in steel production (in the northern regions) has made improving air quality an uphill battle,” he said via email to the Caixin agency. “The failure to meet the targets for steel capacity control shows the challenges of reforming this powerful sector.”
Li Shuo, a climate activist with Greenpeace East Asia, told Caixin that China’s industrial and infrastructure revitalization has threatened the country’s environmental efforts. “It would be regrettable if this resumption were interrupted or even reversed by the Covid crisis, which is inherently also due to environmental problems,” he said.
Translation by Luiz Roberto Mendes Gonçalves