Beijing issued an unprecedented set of new anti-pollution measures during the weekend, as authorities attempt to address exceptionally high levels of air pollution that blanketed the Chinese capital along with a spike in hospital admissions for respiratory ailments and heart attacks, as well as rising public pressure for greater action action. In an unusual step, the Beijing municipal government also asked for public feedback on its website where the draft of the new regulations are posted.
Report: Beijing tries to clean up its act [Financial Times, 20 Jan 2013]
Report: Beijing Smog Rules Woudl Shut Factories When Pollution Spikes [Bloomberg Businessweek, 20 Jan 2013]
The rules would close factories and keep cars off the roads when air pollution reaches dangerous levels. Vehicles will be banned from idling their engines for more than three minutes if parked near a school or hospital, and cars will be subject to random testing for emissions compliance. It also called on construction sites and transport operators to limit particulate emissions. Restaurants and caterers would also be prohibited from burning coal. The more stringent measure appeared a week after pollution levels in Beijing hit a level almost 40 times the recommended World Health Organisation limits.
However, even state-run media in China expressed doubts about the new measures. The Global Times, citing Beijing-based environmental experts, remarked that the new regulations were likely to be as fruitless as previous laws. Some parts of the new rules merely repeat regulations already in place but have been poorly executed due to the lack of clout among environment authorities.
The first instance of the general public's pressure on the Beijing government to act against air pollution was a result of the US Embassy's publicly-available pollution monitor, which released air pollution data not tracked by the Beijing government. While the Beijing authorities have begun monitoring PM2.5 levels, it still showed discrepancies with the US Embassy's monitor. At 9 am, 20 January, levels of PM2.5 were at 155 near Tiananmen Square, according to government data, while the US Embassy's pollution monitor gave a level at 198, or "unhealthy".