Chinese authorities are pushing to shut down privately owned coal-fired steel factories scattered across rural areas in an effort to meet carbon dioxide emissions targets. However, many factory owners say they pay informal "fines" to local inspectors and then re-open. Award-winning Getty Images photojournalist Kevin Frayer visited one of these unauthorised steel plants in Inner Mongolia.

illegal steel factory China
Smoke billows from a large steel plant in the background as a labourer works at an unauthorised steel factory in the foregroundKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer stands near a furnace as he works at an unauthorised steel factory in Inner Mongolia, ChinaKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A loads coal into a furnace at an unauthorised steel plantKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A furnace is reflected in a labourer's glassesKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
Sparks fly as a labourer loads coal into an outdoor furnaceKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer stands near a furnace at an illegal steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer loads coal into a furnaceKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer pours steel as fire is seen in a cooling pit at an unauthorised steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer works at an unauthorised steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer stands next to a cooling pit at an unauthorised steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
Labourers walk past smoke and steam rising from a cooling pit and furnaceKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
Waste molten steel is seen in a cooling pit at an unauthorised steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
Labourers work as smoke and steam rises from an unauthorised steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
Molten steel runs down a channel at an unlicensed steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer pours hot steel at an unauthorised factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer rests as he sits next to red hot steelKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer pours molten steel as another looks on at an unauthorised steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A worker lifts steel ingots out of their mouldsKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer smokes as he takes a break at an unauthorised steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
A labourer smokes as he takes a breakKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
Hot waste coal is dumped outside an unauthorised steel plantKevin Frayer/Getty Images
illegal steel factory China
Steam and smoke rises from waste coal dumped next to an unauthorised steel factoryKevin Frayer/Getty Images

China, which accounts for almost 30 per cent of global carbon pollution, pledged to peak its emissions around 2030 as part of the climate pact adopted in Paris last year. Many analysts say China's peak is likely to come much earlier – and may already have occurred. Environmental officials in Beijing said that a key indicator of poor air quality – the density of the particulate matter PM2.5 – decreased in the first 10 months of 2016 year-on-year.

The environmental campaign group Greenpeace East Asia reported that levels of the heavy metals arsenic, cadmium and lead in the PM2.5 in Beijing had fallen rapidly since 2013. It said the decline was directly linked to the closure of coal-fired power plants around the city.

US president-elect Donald Trump has sent mixed signals about whether he will withdraw from commitments to curb greenhouse gases that, according to scientists, are causing the earth's temperature to rise. Trump once declared that the concept of global warming was "created" by China in order to hurt US manufacturing. With the future of US support for the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change in question, China is poised as an unlikely leader in the international effort against climate change.

China's leadership has stated that any change in US climate policy will not affect its commitment to implement the climate action plan. While the world's biggest polluter, China is also a global leader in establishing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.