Haze and dust buildings in Beijing, Friday, March 10, 2023. Skyscrapers disappeared in the haze and air quality plummeted in the Chinese capital, engulfed in a dust storm and heavy pollution on Friday. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

BEIJING (AP) — Skyscrapers disappeared in the haze on Friday and air quality plummeted in the Chinese capital, engulfed in a storm of dust and high pollution.

Faced with a slow-growing economy, China has promoted coal power, setting back attempts to cut climate-altering emissions.

China is one of the biggest investors in solar and wind power, but nervous authorities have forced increased use of coal since a sharp drop in economic growth and high prices caused by blackouts and factory closures. The Russian attack on Ukraine has raised fears of a disruption in foreign oil and coal supplies.

Concentrations of PM2.5 microparticles, capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and bloodstream, have entered the dangerous range at air quality monitoring sites. The IQAir website showed an air quality index of 1,093, a “dangerous” level, well above levels considered “unhealthy”.

Spring storms of dust and sand blown from the loess hills along the upper reaches of the Yellow River to the west also affected the capital. Desertification efforts have helped reduce both the frequency and intensity of storms that have turned the air a cataclysmic yellowish red.

Beijing was infamous for poor air quality, but conditions had improved a lot in recent years as authorities pulled the dirtiest vehicles off the road and moved coal-fired power plants and heavy industry to the surrounding provinces. .

Air quality has improved remarkably in recent years, when much of China’s industry was crippled by shutdowns under China’s strict “zero COVID” rule.

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