Choking smog blanketed Beijing and much of northern China on Monday, while a new Chinese report raised the alarm about rising sea levels.
As climate change talks opened in Paris, the US embassy in Beijing recorded concentrations of PM2.5 – tiny airborne particles which embed deeply in the lung – at 625 micrograms per cubic metre. That is 25 times above the World Health Organisation’s 25 microgram recommended maximum.
Plummeting visibility grounded flights and local authorities said levels in one southwestern district had reached 976 micrograms per cubic metre – more than 39 times the WHO limit.
In the centre of the capital the air had an acrid taste, and skyscraper summits were invisible from the ground as a grey haze washed out colour.
“You can’t even see people standing directly in front of you,” wrote one disgruntled commuter on the Chinese Twitter-equivalent Sina Weibo. “It feels like even the subway station is full of haze.”
Multiple flights into the capital’s second airport were cancelled, with the city’s main air hub adding more than 50 planes could not take off.
China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and will be central to the discussions in Paris, where president Xi Jinping met US president Barack Obama on the sidelines of the summit.
“As the two largest carbon emitters, we have both determined that it is our responsibility to take action,” Mr Obama said as he sat with Mr Xi.
A Chinese government report released shortly before the summit raised concern at rising sea levels caused by climate change, which could threaten the country’s developed east coast.
Beijing’s “Third National Climate Change Assessment Report” said the sea levels have risen 2.9 millimetres annually from 1980 to 2012, according to the official China climate change website last week, while glaciers had shrunk over 10 per cent since the 1970s.
Temperatures could rise by as much as 5°C by the end of this century, the report added, fueling fears it could lead to more dramatic sea level rises threatening China’s most populated regions.