As Paris Climate Talks Kick Off, Beijing Issues Its Highest Smog Alert Of The Year

CREDIT: AP Photo/Andy Wong

Motorists wait at a junction as vehicles pass beneath a traffic sign reading "Visibility low, slowdown the speed" on a heavily polluted day in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. Beijing on Sunday, Nov. 29 issued its highest smog alert of the year following air pollution in capital city reached hazardous levels as smog engulfed large parts of the country despite efforts to clean up the foul air.

The capital city of China issued its highest smog warning of the year on Sunday, just a day before world leaders — including Chinese President Xi Jinping — gathered in Paris for the U.N. climate talks.

Beijing declared an “orange level” alert Sunday — the second-highest level there is in the country, and one that required factories to either shut down or reduce pollution. The city maintained the level into Monday, the first day of the Paris climate talks. On Sunday, pollution readings were as high as 17 times the level that the World Health Organization considers safe for breathing.

The smog is affecting 23 cities in northern China and stretches 204,634 square miles across the country — an area bigger, Quartz points out, than Spain or California.

APTOPIX China Pollution

CREDIT: AP Photo/Andy Wong

Heavy air pollution is common in many northern Chinese cities, especially in the winter, when the country’s coal-fired power plants work to heat homes and businesses. In 2013, pollution in Shanghai reached off-the-charts levels, forcing children and the elderly to stay indoors and cancelling flights and sporting events. Last October, runners in the Beijing marathon had to wear masks due to the high levels of pollution. And China’s air pollution has serious consequences: a study this year found that 17 percent of all deaths in the country are related to pollution.

China Pollution

CREDIT: AP Photo/Andy Wong

Meanwhile, India’s capital city was also hit with heavy smog over the weekend. Smog in New Delhi reached “hazardous” levels and brought visibility down to about 22 yards. Traffic fumes and coal burning contributed to the smog. However, unlike in Beijing, Indian officials didn’t issue any public warnings about the smog. Smog in New Delhi also reached hazardous levels earlier this month.

A thick layer of smog is seen on Delhi's skyline after Diwali festival, India, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015.

A thick layer of smog is seen on Delhi’s skyline after Diwali festival, India, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

Both China and India — the world’s first- and third-largest emitting countries — have taken steps to reduce their pollution and their contribution to climate change. China outlined a series of climate pledges in September, including implementing a carbon trading system and prioritizing renewable energy. China and the United States came together to announce climate efforts last year, with China agreeing to peak its carbon emissions by 2030. At the Paris climate talks, President Xi has committed to “building a new model of major country relations” between China and the United States.

India, for its part, launched a solar initiative with France during the talks. The initiative seeks to bring solar power to people across India who don’t currently have access to electricity.

“Solar technology is evolving, costs are coming down and grid connectivity is improving,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Monday. “The dream of universal access to clean energy is becoming more real. This will be the foundation of the new economy of the new century.”