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China's step back on environmental promises means pollution is now ten times worse than central London

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Editor Debi Edward

If you’ve ever lived in a house with a chimney and had one of those occasions when smoke blows back down and fills the room, that’s the smell we woke up to in our hotel in the Chinese city of Dezhou.

You can’t just see the smog, you can smell it and taste it.

It gave me an irritating cough and a headache.

For the entire two days we spent in Shandong province, the pollution was roughly 300 on the air quality index; London is around 40.

I asked if this was a particularly bad week, I was told: "This is our winter."

The pollution gets so bad here that it can even lead to road closures, and it was obvious why during our seven-hour drive between an old coal plant in Dezhou and an under-construction plant in Penglai.

Thankfully our driver was experienced at navigating in close to zero visibility.

It’s hard to imagine why the Chinese Government would give the go ahead to any more coal plants, given the choking environment its people are already living in.

Add on top of that the fact President Xi Jinping was a key supporter and signatory to the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

But this year, six new coal plants were approved and five more are under consideration.

It's only two years since the country banned all coal developments and pledged its future to green energy - but since then two things have happened which have caused the government to back track.

A trade war with the United States has put the economy on the back foot and, for the first time in decades, China is in the midst of an economic slowdown.

The White House has mounted a trade war against China. Credit: AP

There’s now a push to increase manufacturing and industrial output, which in turn has led to an increase in energy demand.

At the same time household energy demand has increased.

The government claims without leaning on coal it cannot sustain or guarantee future electricity demands.

This year will see the third consecutive rise in carbon emissions, after a drop off earlier in the decade.

In recent years China has grown to become the world's largest producer of hydroelectric, solar and wind power, but the renewables industry is still too small and too weak to satisfy the demands of the world’s second largest economy and its most populated nation.

It has become a paradox - the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and biggest producer of renewables.

If construction goes ahead on all of the current and proposed coal plants -and existing ones continue to operate - it seems inevitable the world will continue to face a further rise in temperatures.

China has a vital role in the battle against climate change and the country needs to clean up its act, for all of our sakes.