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China warns of severe winter smog, worsened by El Nino

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China could face another bout of severe air pollution this winter with unfavourable weather expected to aggravate the problem, the environment ministry said on Thursday.

[BEIJING] China could face another bout of severe air pollution this winter with unfavourable weather expected to aggravate the problem, the environment ministry said on Thursday.

Smog has emerged as a major problem for the government, which has relied on coal and highly polluting heavy industries to fuel its economic growth, especially in northern regions.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said the El Nino phenomenon meant that wind and rain were likely to be unusually low, and so emissions produced by coal-fired urban heating systems would not be easily dispersed.

At an emergency meeting to discuss measures aimed at limiting pollution this cold season, the ministry urged heating providers to use high-quality coal and to make sure that mandatory boiler renovations have been done before winter heating begins.

The ministry will step up inspections of construction sites and try to reduce the use of fireworks, and has also made provisions to allow big polluting industries like steel and cement to work different shifts in order to reduce smog build-ups, it said on its website (www.mep.gov.cn).

The ministry said heating demand meant that concentrations of small and breathable airborne particles known as PM2.5 reached an average of 111 micrograms per cubic metre last winter in the smog-prone region of Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin, higher than the yearly average of 88.

China launched a "war on pollution" in 2014 and promised to shut polluting industries and cut the use of coal in industrial regions around Beijing, Shanghai and the Pearl river delta near Hong Kong.

REUTERS