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Beijing's Business District is frequently shrouded in smog | © Francisco Anzola / Flickr
Beijing's Business District is frequently shrouded in smog | © Francisco Anzola / Flickr
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How Will the New Smog Police Tackle Beijing's Pollution Problem

Picture of Jim Boyce
Updated: 25 May 2017
It looks like Beijing residents will have to sacrifice some tasty street eats for the sake of their lungs. Shutting down outdoor barbecues is part of the 2017 anti-pollution agenda of the city’s new environmental police force, according to state news media outlet Xinhua.

Long plagued by spells of smog, particularly during the winter months, Beijing is taking new action in the face of mounting criticism from its own residents and the frequent broadcasting of its hazy streets by the international media.

The numbers cited by the Xinhua article underscore the scale of the effort: some 300,000 older vehicles will be removed from the roads to make way for less polluting ones. Meanwhile, 500 inefficient factories will be shuttered while another 2,500 face upgrades.

Street barbecue is a target of the smog police | © Brian Fitzgerald / Flickr
Street barbecue is a target of the smog police | © Brian Fitzgerald / Flickr

The first red alert

Beijing has already taken measures in recent years to combat particularly bad spells. That includes the creation of a monitoring system that saw the first-ever “red alert” announced last December ahead of a week-long stretch of pollution.

For such alerts, the measures can include advising parents to keep children home from school, forcing construction sites and factories to close, and taking half of the city’s personal vehicles off the street based on an odd-number, even-number license plate system. That particular stretch got so bad that flights from Beijing Capital Airport were cancelled, a situation that only brought more cries to improve the situation.

The last coal plant

In terms of the newest initiative, the “smog police” will be the lookout for everything from people burning garbage to particularly dusty roads, along with the aforementioned street barbecues, all in an effort to reduce pollution. Beijing also plans to close its lone coal-fueled plant, once spring arrives, and cut total coal consumption by 30 percent for the year.

Even with such measures, there is only so far the city can reduce pollution. Beijing is partly fringed with mountains and, especially on windless days, these can allow pollution levels to steadily rise. The city is also surrounded by Hebei Province, the home of a large number of coal fired power plants and heavy industries that spread their pollution far and wide.

And even if half of the vehicles are removed from the road, there are still millions on the go every day in a city that long ago embraced the steering wheel and left the days of bicycle-filled streets far behind. Still, anything that lowers smog levels – whether that means reducing construction site dust or upgrading factories – should bring some relief and allow residents to breathe easier.

Millions of vehicles hit the streets every day | © Jakob Montrasio / Flickr
Millions of vehicles hit the streets every day | © Jakob Montrasio / Flickr