Sunset during record air pollution in China, 7 January 2017. Air quality was improving in 2016, until coal production ramped up in September. Photo: Reuters

By Matthew Carney
7 January 2017

(ABC News) – For weeks northern China has been covered in a thick toxic smog. It is one of the worst episodes of air pollution the country has seen, affecting 460 million people.

Coal is the major cause, and will continue to be the country's biggest source of energy and air pollution. Although billions have been pledged for renewable energy, 200 new coal power plants will be built across the country.

For the last month, severe air pollution has choked Beijing and coal is estimated to cause about 40 per cent of the smog in the nation's capital.

Other cities in the north, such as Shijiazhuang, have recorded air quality of 1000 PM2.5. PM2.5 are fine particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter that can lodge in the lungs and get into the bloodstream. The World Health Organisation says anything over 25 PM2.5 as a health hazard.

People are frustrated because air quality was improving in 2016 until coal production ramped up in September to service a mini stimulus package for heavy industries.

Cheap coal has powered China's economic miracle and still provides 70 per cent of the country's energy. The Government is reluctant to wean itself off coal, fearing unemployment and unrest.

In a rare display of anger, China's rising middle class took to the Chinese social media website "wechat", demanding the Government take action and protect the children of China.

They said the Government's "war on pollution", now in its third year, has not delivered results. […]

The Chinese Government is telling the world it will dramatically slash its coal production, and last week announced it would spend $360 billion on renewable energy to ease the pollution crisis.

But the reality is China has big plans for coal. Two hundred coal-fired power plants will be built in the coming decade. Some of the older plants will be decommissioned, but even by 2020 coal capacity is estimated to increase by 20 per cent. [more]

China's air pollution crisis shows no sign of ending as nation fails to lower coal use

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