Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Heavy Smog Chokes Beijing as Xi Reaches Paris for Climate Talks

Smog levels spiked in Beijing on Monday, highlighting the environmental challenges facing China as President Xi Jinping arrives in Paris for global climate talks.

The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, went “beyond index” in the afternoon, according to a U.S. Embassy monitor. The PM2.5 level was 678 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square, the Beijing government said. The World Health Organization recommends average 24-hour exposure to PMI of 25 or below.

A policeman stands at Tiananmen Square

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Public outrage over air pollution has been a catalyst for China’s transformation into a driving force for a breakthrough deal in Paris. Leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to being discussions in the French capital Monday.

Beijing on Sunday raised its air pollution alert to orange, the second-highest level in its four-tier system, for the first time in 13 months. The heavy pollution in Beijing won’t clear up until Dec. 2, according to the environment bureau. The city will ask some factories to suspend or limit production and construction sites to stop transporting materials and waste while the orange alert is active, it said.

Under the orange alert, people are advised to cut down on outdoor activity, while the elderly and people with heart and lung ailments should stay inside.

Severe pollution was also reported in at least 17 other cities around Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and Shandong, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Shanghai’s air was also heavily polluted, the second worst level on a six-grade scale, with the PM2.5 reading at 170.4 micrograms per cubic meter as of 12 p.m., the city’s Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website.

The potential for heavy-pollution days is greater in winter due to weather conditions and increased energy consumption for heating, said Dong Liansai, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

As pollution levels surged in Beijing, the government also announced on Sunday that it had achieved its targets for reducing major pollutants outlined in its five-year plan ending 2015 ahead of schedule, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Air quality in more than 300 Chinese cities improved in the first three quarters from a year earlier, though average concentrations in 80 percent of the cities exceeded national standards, said Greenpeace’s Dong.

— With assistance by Feifei Shen

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