Cut the coal, please

Krakow was known for its choking smog in Communist times, when Poland’s medieval capital was bathed in the corrosive stench being pumped out by the nearby Lenin Steelworks.

Fast forward a quarter of a century, and Krakow’s air is still polluted – although the culprit is no longer the steel mill (now owned by Arcelor Mittal) but instead the thousands of people who still heat their homes with coal. The result has been some of the worst air in a still-smoggy country where coal generates about 90 per cent of Poland’s electricity. However, the local government in Krakow is now moving to ban home heating with coal over the next five years. Read more

Tech worship

For the last week, the streets of Mumbai have been lit up – by brightly coloured posters loudly announcing Diwali sales and by spectacular fireworks that left the dogs howling. It seemed like typical festival fever.

But if celebrations this Diwali are anything to go by, India is developing fast: two reports from the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) show that online shopping grew, and sales of firecrackers fell this Diwali. Read more

Dmitry Medvedev confirmed plans this week to shut down a Soviet-era paper mill on the shores of Lake Baikal that environmentalists say is polluting the world’s biggest reservoir of fresh water. But Russian Greens, who have been campaigning against the Baikalsk plant for more than two decades, are not ready to celebrate yet. They are not even sure that Russia’s prime minister means what he says. Read more

The Samsung saga involving a toxic chemical leak at its major chipmaking factory doesn’t seem to be over yet.

South Korea’s environment ministry said on Tuesday that it will investigate the incident to see if some hydrofluoric acid was leaked to the outside of the plant and whether Samsung’s safety facilities are well maintained to protect its workers from toxic chemicals. Read more

Recently there has been a lot of attention paid to an essay on tax reform by the head of the tax department at the Ministry of Finance in Beijing, which mentions two hot-button words: carbon, and tax.

But does this mean that China, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon, will adopt a serious carbon tax? According to Su Wei, director general of climate change at the powerful economic planning ministry, the answer is: probably not anytime soon. Read more

A picture is worth a thousand words. And China’s extreme air pollution problem – now “beyond crazy bad” as one blogger put it, really needs to be seen to be believed.

In that spirit, beyondbrics has put together some images of the toxic smog that has hit swathe of northern China this month, causing flights to cancel, prompting runs on air purifiers and face masks and even inspiring one entrepreneur to sell fresh air in a canRead more

The snowflakes drifting earthwards made for a pretty sight in Seoul this week. But they had a darker aspect for many residents concerned about their toxic properties, as worries continue about South Korea’s vulnerability to air pollution in nearby China.

Much of eastern China has experienced its worst smog for years over the past week, caused largely by the past decade’s huge increase in coal usage by factories and power plants, as well as emissions from the rapidly growing number of motor vehicles. Since Saturday, South Korea has also suffered an acute rise in air pollution – albeit not to the same levels of Beijing – and local media, as well as government officials, are pinning the blame on China. Read more

By uncanny coincidence, the record-breaking pollution that has enveloped Beijing comes almost exactly 60 years after London’s Great Smog of 1952, the worst case of air pollution in British history.

The comparison will not be lost in China. Many Chinese will remember Mao-era propaganda films which often showed London’s smogs as evidence of the failure of capitalism. Britain responded to the enviromental crisis with a clean-up. It’s time for China to do the same. Read more

According to some measures, Hong Kong has the second worst air quality in China. It is a problem the city must address if it wants to maintain its position as Asia’s leading international city.

A few years ago beyondbrics visited La Oroya, a town of about 30,000 people stuck in a valley high up in the Peruvian Andes. This could sound idyllic to many. But it was not.

Towering the valley was a massive chimney constantly spitting fumes with high concentration of arsenic, lead and cadmium from the local smelter. Infants were born with lead in their blood, according to local physicians. Your correspondent still remembers the rough coughs, and metallic taste with utter disgustRead more

Bangladesh is widely known as significant exporter of garments to major Western brands in Europe and the US. Less noticed has been the rapid growth of its leather industry, which last year exported around $663m worth of leather and leather products to Italy, Spain, Germany, China, South Korea and Japan.

But global importers sourcing leather from Bangladesh for handbags, shoes and jackets are running the risk of a severe blow to their reputation, with a human rights group now training its sights on abuses by the country’s unregulated export-oriented leather industry. Read more

Microsoft’s Beijing office handed out a curious Chinese New Year’s gift to its staff a few weeks ago: a heavy-duty gas mask. Other global companies have also been distributing face masks to their Beijing staff, including electronics maker LG.

Why such a morose gift during a holiday season? Air pollution and its health impact is becoming a bigger concern in China’s smoggy capital. Read more

Sec_sickbricsIt would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest ranking has named Beijing the most liveable city in China.

Yes, that’s right – the Chinese capital which, when the news came out on Wednesday, was suffocating under a dark grey blanket of smog that hadn’t lifted for days and which has been covering it most of this summer. Read more