SHANGHAI: Air pollution in China's heavy-industrial province of Henan worsened in December even as other regions improved, official data showed, with its cities hit by unfavourable weather and a struggle to find cleaner sources of economic growth.
China is restricting industrial output, traffic and coal consumption in the smog-prone north for a second year in a bid to cut pollution during the winter heating period, when thousands of mainly coal-burning boilers are switched on.
But nine cities in Henan, home to around 95 million people, still recorded a rise in small, lung-damaging emissions known as PM2.5 to an average of 82 micrograms per cubic metre in the last month of 2018, up 12 percent from a year earlier.
Emissions in the cities - which include several big steel, aluminium and coal producing districts - had already soared by 107 per cent from a year earlier in November, according to a Reuters analysis of official data.
As many as 79 cities throughout the north and east have drawn up plans to control smog this winter, with many committed to cutting PM2.5 emissions by 3 per cent from last year.
For these cities, average PM2.5 levels fell 18 per cent in December from a year earlier to 66 micrograms per cubic metre, according to Reuters calculations, although still nearly double China's national standard of 35 micrograms.
But the local increases in Henan and elsewhere show how much cities are at the mercy of the weather, with conditions such as high humidity and low wind exacerbating smog.
"My analysis indicates that (the rises in Henan) are accounted for by the weather," said Lauri Myllyvirta, energy analyst with Greenpeace.
Henan's smog concentrations have worsened since the end of last year, with the local government saying on Saturday that 12 provincial cities have issued "red alerts" for the coming week.
Some 28 cities in the major pollution control zone around China's capital Beijing are also struggling to meet winter air quality targets, with average PM2.5 in the last two months of 2018 up 17 per cent compared with a year earlier.
The zone includes the country's top steel producing province of Hebei, where average emissions rose 11 per cent in the last two months of 2018.
Hebei has promised to cut PM2.5 by 5 per cent this year compared to 2018, the official Hebei Daily reported on Monday, citing the local environmental bureau.
It vowed to cut another 14 million tonnes of steel smelting capacity and 9 million tonnes of coal production, after shutting 12.3 million tonnes and 13 million tonnes respectively in 2018.
The province said last week it had cut PM2.5 by 12.5 per cent to an average of 56 micrograms over the whole of 2018, beating its target.