Beijing, 20 December 2016 – Northern China’s 23-city air pollution red alert has become the most serious air pollution episode of the year, affecting a population equivalent to that of the US, Canada and Mexico combined. Approximately 200 million citizens across six provinces are experiencing “hazardous” levels of smog, and a further 260 million seeing “heavy” pollution (see Map 1). In the last 24 hours, a total of eight cities, including two provincial capitals, experienced “off the charts” pollution.
The cities experiencing the most severe pollution are all among China’s largest steel or coal industry clusters, which have recently seen a major uptick in production driven by retrograde stimulus policies.
“The scale of the red alert measures show that the Chinese government is taking air pollution seriously,” said climate and energy campaigner Dong Liansai.
“However, the ongoing ‘airpocalypse’ is further evidence that China must implement far stricter limitations on coal consumption and accelerate the restructuring of the economy away from the heavily polluting sectors.”
On Monday the steel producing city of Handan in southern Hebei saw its worst air pollution on record, with the 24 hour average air quality index (AQI) at one station reaching 780, if the index is extended beyond its official scale of 0 to 500.
The province’s capital, Shijiazhuang, also saw AQI exceed 700.On Monday the Ministry of Environmental Protection identified factories across the region which have been found by environmental inspection teams to be continuing operations in violation of the air pollution red alert measures ordering reduced operations or a complete halt in operations.“Violations of emissions regulations are unacceptable,” said Dong Liansai. “Violating factories must be strictly penalised, and repeat offenders should be placed on the government’s phase out list.”
Based on available data and pollution forecasts, Greenpeace East Asia predict that this December will continue the trend of stagnating or worsening air quality that began in the second quarter of the year.
Greenpeace East Asia urges the Chinese government to introduce stricter limits on coal consumption across the country. Emissions limits must be more strictly enforced and offenders heavily penalised. In the longer term, China urgently needs to accelerate the country’s economic transformation away from heavy industries and towards cleaner services.
 Greenpeace East Asia analysis of official hourly monitoring data. “Heavy” pollution is equal to six times above the WHO daily guideline of 25, while “hazardous” refers to pollution more than ten times above the WHO daily guideline.
 China’s MEP began publishing data from 74 city air quality monitoring points, including Handan, in January 2013. In 2015 the list was expanded to 367.
 The phase out list is a guideline released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology every year as a guideline to shrink industrial overcapacity by phasing out poor performing industries, based on their financial status and compliance to policies, including emissions standards. Industries on the list should close down permanently.