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China's smog red alert designed to fight environmental destruction

China is the world’s biggest polluter but it spends more than any other country on renewables so its co-operation is essential for any global climate deal to succeed.

In Copenhagen, in 2009, it was accused of obstructing the talks but its leaders head to Paris this year a changed group.

Only a few weeks ago, it’s climate change gurus said that it will fulfil its environmental pledges "under any circumstances".

They said they’ll meet all the commitments they've made in the last two years, including promises to have emissions peak in 2030 and to introduce a national missions trading scheme in 2017.

Many wore masks to protect against the severe smog. Credit: Reuters

Beijing is eager to let the world know how seriously it is taking the Paris powwow. What a difference six years can make.

China’s leadership faces enormous domestic pressure to clean up its environment.

It’s not uncommon for some Chinese cities to experience days, sometimes weeks, of suffocating smog.

Its rulers recently outlined their Five Year Plan, putting the environment at the top of the agenda, something Luo Bin from the State Forestry Administration says President Xi has always prioritised, since he came to office March 2013.

After Xi came to power more importance was put on the environment. Before then, GDP was the most important thing.

We have changed now.

The economy is not the dominant force.

We want clean water and green living aswell as money.

We want it all - this is what our government and my generation are now striving for.

– Luo Bin

And it needs to. Its share of world carbon output rose last year to 28%, more than double that of the US. But then also in 2014 it spent more than $83 billion on renewables, a third of the world’s total. America spent just $38 billion.

So, ahead of the Paris Summit, we travelled across China to witness the effects of climate change, meet those suffering as a result and also see the breadth of this country’s efforts to focus on renewable energy.

We first visited Minqin, a village in Gansu Province, North West China where we met five-year-old Heqi.

He has nobody to play with as he is the only child left living in the village.

Every family with young children has moved away to find work because the surrounding land is now too difficult to farm.

Lu Xianglin speaking to ITV News. Credit: ITV News

One 39-year old farmer, who’s lived in Minqin all his life, told me:

We used to grow all kinds of fruit & vegetables, even watermelons.

It was paradise, but it’s too difficult these days.

Everyone has had to move out.

There are few prospects for the next generation. We’ll be the last ones living here.

– LU XIANGLIN

And it’s because of desertification, an effect of climate change.

During the past decade, sand dunes have moved 200 metres closer to the village, and this isn’t the only place struggling like this.

Sands now occupy a quarter of China’s territory, and we were accompanied on our trip by a geographer, who’s been monitoring this area for more than 10 years

"Climate change means more droughts, less rainfall & higher temperatures," Dr Wei said.

"They make the environment fragile. Vegetation can’t grow so the dunes invade.”

A child plays with some bricks. Credit: ITV News

After seeing the vast swathes of desert encroaching on what used to be a vibrant town and rich, fertile land, we travelled to Shandong Province in North East China where "Solar City” was built in 2010.

A huge site where homes, businesses, factories, schools, a university and a hotel all use solar power.

China’s largest solar technology factory is also there.

A solar factory in China. Credit: ITV News

It’s owner, and Solar City's ‘visionary,’ is Huang Ming. He’s a former government energy policy maker who will speak in Paris this week.

China is the world's 2nd largest economy, and the most populated, so it will continue being the world’s biggest polluter in the short-term.

But we should worry more about other developing nations who will pollute more as they try to catch up.

China is doing a lot of positive things and will do more in the future.

– HUANG MING, CEO Himin Solar

We then went on to meet Zhao Jinghai - a father and one of the local factory workers.

He moved here for a job within the renewable energy industry and to do his ‘bit,’ living in a more eco-friendly home.

I think my child deserves what I experienced growing up - blue skies and no smog. I really miss that time.

We didn’t realise how important it was to protect the environment when I was young, so our children are suffering.

If our generation makes an effort now then maybe my child will see sky and clouds again.

– ZHAO JINGHAI

His daughter’s name in Chinese is Qing Qing, which means clear day and ironically as we sat chatting to him, and she played in a toy car, outside it was yet another smog-choked China day. They are all she is used to.