Smog chokes Chinese, Indian capitals as climate talks begin

Smog In China Reaches Off-The-Charts Levels


BEIJING/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The capitals of the world's two most populous nations, China and India, were blanketed in hazardous, choking smog on Monday as climate change talks began in Paris, where leaders of both countries are leading participants.

China's capital Beijing maintained an "orange" pollution alert, the second-highest level, on Monday, closing highways, halting or suspending construction and prompting a warning to residents to stay indoors.

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The choking pollution was caused by the "unfavorable" weather, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Sunday. Emissions in northern China soar over winter as urban heating systems are switched on and low wind speeds have meant that polluted air has not been dispersed.

In New Delhi, the U.S. embassy's monitoring station recorded an air quality index of 372 - which put air pollution levels well into "hazardous" territory. A thick smog blanketed the city and visibility was down to about 200 yards (metres).

See photos of the increased smog:

31 PHOTOS
Smog in China and India, air pollution
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Smog chokes Chinese, Indian capitals as climate talks begin
Commuters drive on a road in heavy pollution in Beijing on December 1, 2015. Beijing ordered hundreds of factories to shut and allowed children to skip school as choking smog reached over 25 times safe levels on December 1, casting a cloud over China's participation in Paris climate talks. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A woman wearing a mask practices roller blading at Olympic Park during dheavy smog on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. The representatives of the governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week, including Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the Paris meeting. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
A woman uses her scarf to cover her mouth as she crosses a street in Beijing on December 1, 2015. Beijing ordered hundreds of factories to shut and allowed children to skip school as choking smog reached over 25 times safe levels on December 1, casting a cloud over China's participation in Paris climate talks. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A man rides riding a tricycle with plastic bottles to be recycled on a day of heavy pollution on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Commuters drive on a road in heavy pollution in Beijing on December 1, 2015. Beijing ordered hundreds of factories to shut and allowed children to skip school as choking smog reached over 25 times safe levels on December 1, casting a cloud over China's participation in Paris climate talks. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A subway passing bridge on a day of heavy pollution on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
People arrive at the airport on a polluted day in Beijing on December 1, 2015. China has ordered thousands of factories to shut as it grapples with swathes of choking smog that were nearly 24 times safe levels on December 1, casting a shadow over the country's participation in Paris climate talks. A thick grey haze shrouded Beijing, with the concentration of PM 2.5, harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, climbing as high as 598 micrograms per cubic metre AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR / AFP / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Visitors wear masks as they walk in Tiananmen Square during heavy pollution in Beijing on December 1, 2015. Beijing ordered hundreds of factories to shut and allowed children to skip school as choking smog reached over 25 times safe levels on December 1, casting a cloud over China's participation in Paris climate talks. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk through a overpass in Beijing on December 1, 2015. Beijing ordered hundreds of factories to shut and allowed children to skip school as choking smog reached over 25 times safe levels on December 1, casting a cloud over China's participation in Paris climate talks. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk past a billboard scene of green trees and grass on a heavily polluted day in Beijing on December 1, 2015. China has ordered thousands of factories to shut as it grapples with swathes of choking smog that were nearly 24 times safe levels on December 1, casting a shadow over the country's participation in Paris climate talks. A thick grey haze shrouded Beijing, with the concentration of PM 2.5, harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, climbing as high as 598 micrograms per cubic metre. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER / AFP / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: Chinese Tai Chi practitioners exercise at a local park on a high pollution day on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 30: A Chinese man wears a protective face mask as he passes by the CCTV building on a day of heavy pollution on November 30, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change.(Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: Tourists visit the Olympic Park during dheavy smog on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. The representatives of the governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week, including Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the Paris meeting. (Photo by Li Feng/Getty Images)
This combination image of two photographs taken on December 3, 2015 (top) and two days earlier on December 1 (bottom) shows a skyscraper under clear skies and in heavy pollution, as seen in the central business district in Beijing. The skies cleared in Beijing on December 2 and 3, after being swathed in choking smog that was nearly 24 times safe levels earlier in the week. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER / AFP / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo combo shows a general view of people visiting Tiananmen Square during a heavily polluted day on December 1, 2015 (LOWER) and two days later when the smog cleared on December 3 (TOP) in Beijing. The skies cleared in Beijing on December 2 and 3, after being swathed in choking smog that was nearly 24 times safe levels earlier in the week. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman wearing a mask exits an underpass in Beijing on November 30, 2015. Beijing choked under the worst smog of the year on November 30, with dangerous particulates nearly 20 times healthy levels, as China's president joined other leaders in Paris for key climate change talks. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 30: A couple wear protective masks as they have their picture taken outside the Forbidden City on a day of heavy pollution on November 30, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 30: (CHINA OUT) Buildings at the Lujiazui Financial District are shrouded in smog on November 30, 2015 in Shanghai, China. Shanghai's real-time Air pollution index (API) read high 189 on Monday morning. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk over a footbridge shrouded in haze as vehicles drive on a highway in Beijing, China, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. Air pollution reached 'hazardous' levels in Beijing on Sunday, prompting the city to upgrade to the second-highest alert for the first time in 13 months on the same day that the Chinese government said it has met pollution-reduction targets for the year. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 30: A Chinese woman wears a protective mask as she walks outside the Forbidden City on a day of heavy pollution on November 30, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
A woman wearing a mask walks past in Beijing on November 30, 2015. Beijing choked under the worst smog of the year on November 30, with dangerous particulates nearly 20 times healthy levels, as China's president joined other leaders in Paris for key climate change talks. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
A man wears a mask on a polluted day in Beijing on November 30, 2015. Beijing choked under the worst smog of the year on November 30, with dangerous particulates nearly 20 times healthy levels, as China's president joined other leaders in Paris for key climate change talks. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR / AFP / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with Climate-warming-UN-COP21-India,FOCUS by Trudy Harris In this November 15, 2015 photo, Indian joggers exercise on a smoggy morning near the India Gate monument in New Delhi. India's capital, with 18 million residents, has the world's most polluted air with six times the amount of small particulate matter (pm2.5) than what is considered safe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The air's hazardous amount of pm2.5 can reach deep into the lungs and enter the blood, causing serious long term health effect, with the WHO warning India has the world's highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases. India, home to 13 of the world's top 20 polluted cities, is also the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the United States and China. In Delhi, the air pollution is due to vehicle traffic including cargo trucks running on low-grade diesel, individual fires that residents burn in winter, crop being burnt by farmers in neighboring states, and construction site dust. Burning coal in power plants is also major contributor that is expected to increase hugely in the coming decades to match electricity needs of the ever-growing city and its booming satellite towns. (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian schoolgirl covers her nose and mouth as she walks with others along a busy road on a smoggy day in New Delhi on November 30, 2015. Some 150 leaders including US President Barack Obama, China's Xi Jinping, India's Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the start of the Paris conference on climate change, which starts on November 30, tasked with reaching the first truly universal climate pact. AFP PHOTO / Money SHARMA / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)
Heavy traffic is seen during a smoggy day in New Delhi on November 30, 2015. Some 150 leaders including US President Barack Obama, China's Xi Jinping, India's Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the start of the Paris conference on climate change, which starts on November 30, tasked with reaching the first truly universal climate pact. AFP PHOTO / Money SHARMA / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 30: A residence community is blanketed by smog on November 30, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)
A man wears a mask on a polluted day in Beijing on November 30, 2015. Beijing choked under the worst smog of the year on November 30, with dangerous particulates nearly 20 times healthy levels, as China's president joined other leaders in Paris for key climate change talks. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR / AFP / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 30: (CHINA OUT) People take photos at The Bund in smog on November 30, 2015 in Shanghai, China. Shanghai's real-time Air pollution index (API) read high 189 on Monday morning. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Heavy traffic is seen during a smoggy day in New Delhi on November 30, 2015. Some 150 leaders including US President Barack Obama, China's Xi Jinping, India's Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the start of the Paris conference on climate change, which starts on November 30, tasked with reaching the first truly universal climate pact. AFP PHOTO / Money SHARMA / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 30: (CHINA OUT) Buildings at the Lujiazui Financial District are shrouded in smog on November 30, 2015 in Shanghai, China. Shanghai's real-time Air pollution index (API) read high 189 on Monday morning. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
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However, the government has not raised any alarm over the current air quality and no advisories were issued to the public. Thirty thousand runners took part in a half marathon at the weekend, when pollution levels were just as high.

In Beijing, a city of 22.5 million, the air quality index in some parts of the city soared to 500, its highest possible level. At levels higher than 300, residents are encouraged to remain indoors, according to government guidelines.

The hazardous air underscores the challenge facing the government as it battles pollution caused by the coal-burning power industry and will raise questions about its ability to clean up its economy at the talks in Paris.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are both in Paris and both were scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday to give momentum to the two-week negotiations.

"WHEN A CHILD IS BORN, WE PLANT A TREE"

Modi wrote on Monday that: "The instinct of our culture is to take a sustainable path to development. When a child is born, we plant a tree.

"Since ancient times, we have seen humanity as part of nature, not superior to it," he wrote in an opinion piece for the Financial Times. "This idea, rooted in our ancient texts, endures in sacred groves and in community forests across the land."

For Beijing's residents, the poor air makes breathing hard.

"This sort of weather, you can see that all of Beijing has been completely enveloped in smog...and for every breath, getting up every morning, your throat will feel particularly uncomfortable," said Zhang Heng, a 26-year-old architect.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said on Sunday that it had requested factories to limit or suspend output and had also stopped construction work throughout the city.

The ministry said the number of cities affected by heavy pollution had reached 23, stretching across 530,000 square km, an area the size of Spain, but a cold front beginning on Wednesday would see the situation improve.

State-run Xinhua news agency said more than 200 expressway toll gates in east China's Shandong province were closed on Monday due to smog. The province issued a yellow alert.

China launched a "war on pollution" last year following a spate of smog outbreaks in Beijing and surrounding regions.

China has vowed to slash coal consumption and close down polluting industrial capacity, but environmental officials admit that the country is unlikely to meet state air quality standards until at least 2030.

Reducing coal use and promoting cleaner forms of energy are set to play a crucial role in China's pledges to bring its climate warming greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by around 2030.

RELATED: See more pollution in Asia this year

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