The Yangtze River Delta region near Shanghai saw a key measure of smog concentrations rise by a fifth in January, official data showed on Monday, raising fears that the pollution crackdown in northern China has forced heavy industry to move further south.
Though concentrations of small, breathable particles known as PM2.5 fell 17.9 per cent year on year to 64 micrograms per cubic metre in 338 cities nationwide in January, the Yangtze delta registered an average of 72 micrograms, up 20 per cent.
The level remains far higher than the state standard of 35 micrograms. The World Health Organisation recommends no more than 10 micrograms.
Xian, home of China’s terracotta warriors in the country’s northwest, was the worst-performing city in January.
The Pearl River Delta region around Hong Kong also saw PM2.5 rise 3.9 per cent year on year, data from the environmental protection ministry showed.
China saw unusually high levels of PM2.5 in the first two months of last year, where near-record pollution throughout northern regions prompted dozens of cities to declare a “red alert” to impose emergency traffic restrictions, and close factories and schools.
In a bid to meet their 2017 targets after the early year pollution spike, 28 northern Chinese cities pledged to cut PM2.5 by 10-25 per cent from October 2017 to March 2018, forcing them to curb industrial output, reduce vehicle traffic and slash coal consumption.
The measures saw PM2.5 emissions fall by an average of 33 per cent to 77 micrograms from October to the end of January, the ministry said in a separate notice on Monday.
It said Beijing cut pollutants by 58.3 per cent over the period, while Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, registered a 52.4 per cent decline over the four months.
China’s anti-smog campaign has not been without controversy, with businesses complaining that Beijing’s “one size fits all” approach has harmed their interests.
An overambitious attempt to convert millions of households from coal- to natural gas-fired heating has also proved a major challenge, with many villages left without gas supplies during parts of the freezing winter.