China Pollution
A man wears a face mask while walking on the Bund in front of the financial district of Pudong during a hazy day in downtown Shanghai, Dec. 9, 2013. Reuters

The air pollution in China is becoming increasingly dire, and the government is finally ready to admit it. A new report shows that last month all 74 of China’s major cities failed to meet the nation’s air quality standards, which are presumably quite lenient already.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported new statistics published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, showing that the amount of PM2.5 and PM10, two key pollutants that are monitored for air quality, increased in December by 55.7 percent and 30.1 percent, respectively. The ministry also reported that on average all of the nation’s major cities were not able to meet the environmental standards for more than 70 percent of the days. Perhaps experiencing the worst of the pollution last month was the eastern China’s Yangtze River Delta area, which reportedly experienced bad pollution on 81 percent of the days.

In response, China’s government has planned a four-level alert system for pollution, using color codes blue, yellow, orange and red, from low-level to severe. The ministry announced that if implemented in full, the system will help immediately mitigate air pollution by adjusting emissions of cars and factories on a color-code basis. Still, the ministry warns that day-to-day assessment is still only a temporary solution and calls for adjustments in the industrial and energy sectors for real change to occur.

In Beijing’s local government, the warning has been heard. In mid-January, the capital city’s mayor, Wang Anshun, announced a pledge to cut coal use by 2.6 million tons and a commitment of 15 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) to help with the city’s “all-out effort” to improve air quality. Coal burning is one of the city’s largest sources of pollution, particularly during the winter, because it remains the main heating source for homes in the capital’s periphery. Another part of the effort includes promoting energy-efficient vehicles, while cutting back on those without such features, Wang announced. However, it is clear that tackling air pollution will need to be a nationwide effort.

Xinhua also reported that last year China shut down 8,347 big pollution-producing companies in China’s northern Hebei province. As the country’s biggest steel-producing province, Hebei holds the title as the home of the worst air in the country. However, because of proximity, much of Hebei’s pollution spreads to nearby Beijing and Tianjin.