Shanghai is considering distributing protective masks to its smog-choked residents, according to reports in the local media.
The proposals were made by Zhu Junbo, a local representative of China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and follow a period of unusually toxic air pollution in the financial hub.
Shanghai’s pollution problem had become “more and more obvious” since 2012, Mr Zhu argued, according to the city’s Xinmin Evening News. “The government could purchase the right kind of masks, or select companies to produce qualified masks for distribution,” he told state media.
“We need to treat the haze at the source. We have noticed that Shanghai’s government and the central government have adopted many methods [to tackle pollution], but it may take time to bring about fundamental change,” added Mr Zhu, who is also the deputy bureau chief of Shanghai’s media regulator, the Press and Publication Administration.
It was not immediately clear if the proposals would see authorities give masks to all of the city’s more than 23 million residents. Mr Zhu said children, traffic police and those who worked outdoors should be given priority. The masks would be distributed through the city’s health care system, the Xinmin Evening News reported.
The report came as Yang Xiong, Shanghai’s mayor, told an annual summit of Communist Party leaders and advisers that his city needed to “break away from the conventional path of development.”
“Environmental capacity is strained and air pollution such as haze has become a pronounced problem,” Mr Yang told Shanghai’s People’s Congress on Sunday.
Mr Yang vowed to “pay more attention to the atmospheric environment” although on Tuesday the Shanghai Daily newspaper said the city’s investment in environmental protection would not rise from its current level of around 3% of economic output.
In 2014, Shanghai aimed to “eliminate 500 heavily polluting installations and facilities,” the mayor said.
Shanghai has traditionally been considered less polluted than the notoriously foul-skied Beijing. But in recent months recurrent bouts of severe smog have put its political leaders under pressure and made facemasks a common sight on the city’s streets.
Last December Shanghai suffered one of the worst spells of air pollution on record. Sports events, lessons and flights were cancelled as a putrid yellow haze enveloped the city and levels of PM2.5, a miniscule airborne particulate that has been linked to hearth disease and cancer, rocketed to levels that were more than 20 times those deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.
Last Wednesday, Shanghai introduced a “special emergency pollution” plan under which the government will be able to force cars off the city’s roads and close schools during particularly bad spells of pollution.
Some reports have suggested Shanghai may be suffering the consequences of a crackdown on polluting steel mills in the industrial belt around Beijing.
Seeking to clear Beijing’s skies, authorities closed 8,347 “heavily polluting companies” in the northern province of Hebei last year, China’s official news agency said last week.
However, analysts believe some dirty industries, including steel, cement and glass, may have simply migrated to provinces surrounding Shanghai, including Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangxi.
“It could be that they reduce pollution in Hebei and it just pops up again here in Shanghai,” Graeme Train, a Shanghai commodities analyst, told Reuters earlier this month.
Shanghai is not the only Chinese city grappling with how to clear its skies.
On Tuesday, state media quoted senior Communist Party officials in the provinces of Guangxi and Hubei who voiced concerns over increasing levels of smog.
“[Guangxi’s capital] Nanning used to be famous for its clean air but after looking at the city’s air quality readings last year, it’s hard to be optimistic,” Jiang Hongbing, the deputy head of the Communist Party’s provincial supervision department, told Xinhua, China’s official news service. Mr Jiang urged his province’s leaders to “act before things get really serious.”
Li Hong, a senior official from Hubei province, said: “[Locals] feel the problems of Beijing and Shanghai are now happening around us.”
In an interview with the state-run China Daily, Shen Xiaoyue, a senior official from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, warned: “The situation is too serious to allow further delays.”
“After 30 years of fast-track economic development since the 1980s the environmental damage that’s resulted from the GDP-centred policy has become all too apparent,” added Ms Shen, who is director of the ministry’s policy research centre.
“The public is understandably alarmed by the heavy smog which on bad days seems to engulf the country and, judging by all the evidence, if not handled properly and directly, environmental issues have the potential to not only erode government credibility but also to threaten social stability.”