China orders local officials to stop issuing smog alerts, sparking fears of government air pollution cover-up

Critics ask why weather experts are no longer allowed to issue environmental warnings

Harriet Agerholm
Wednesday 18 January 2017 10:01 GMT
Terrifying video shows blanket of air pollution enveloping Beijing

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China has asked its provinces to turn off smog warnings, generating fears the government is trying to deceive the population about levels air pollution.

China's Meteorological Administration told local provinces on Tuesday to “immediately stop issuing smog alerts”, according to photo of a memo posted on Chinese social media site Weibo and later confirmed by state media.

One department will now oversee issuing warnings, which one official claimed will help avoid mismatches between different authorities.

According to the notice – purportedly an internal document that was leaked – local departments can still issue fog alerts, but only when visibility falls below 10km.

An unnamed official from China’s Meteorological Administration told government-backed online publication The Paper: "Meteorological bureaus and the environmental protection administration often disagree when they issue smog-related information.”

Almost three years since China “declared war” on pollution, large stretches of the country are still regularly plagued by bouts of dangerous levels of smog.

Across the new year period, dangerous air quality levels were found in large cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Xian, causing people to live confined to their houses for days on end.

Chinese authorities use a clear colour-coded alert system to warn institutions about the levels of smog and to implement pollution-limiting measures, such as suspending factories and taking cars off the road,.

But the accuracy and fair application of the scheme has been called into question, with critics noting differences between warnings issued under different authorities.

Local bureaus have come under criticism for being too reluctant to issue smog alerts for fear of suppressing the economy.

In 2015, the first ever alert was issued in the country, after authorities came under heavy fire for inaction against a hazardous haze that had blanketed the country’s north-east region.

The government instruction on smog alerts has been met with anger online, with commentators asking why weather experts are no longer allowed to issue environmental warnings.

“The meteorological administration fought the environmental protection ministry and lost,” the Nanjing Meteorological Institute said on its official Weibo account.

“Thus, early warnings about smog, a kind of meteorological calamity, cannot be issued by the meteorological administration,” it said.

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