Tianjin says it won't allow steel or cement plants, to curb pollution

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 9:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2014, 4:14am

The government of Tianjin has said it will not approve any new steel, cement or non-ferrous metals plants in a bid to fight pollution.

The announcement, reported by Xinhua yesterday, echoed statements by neighbouring Hebei province and Beijing, and is in line with last year's central government plan to restrict new manufacturing in key industrial centres.

The central government has vowed to reverse the damage done to its environment by decades of untrammelled economic growth, and has identified the region of Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin as one of the key targets of a programme to curb big industries like steel, thermal power and cement, all major sources of smog.

"I believe this is an economic strategy to cut down on overcapacity, and it will not lead to more steel plants being built elsewhere, so it will contribute to reducing emissions, especially in the hotspot areas," said Chu Yang, an analyst at China Policy, a Beijing-based consultancy.

The nation's leaders have struggled to meet its environmental goals, with economic growth long at the top of its political agenda. But they have now vowed to impose their will on local governments and make cleaning up the environment the number one priority.

Hebei province consumed about 280 million tonnes of coal last year and is under pressure to cut 40 million tonnes by 2017. The capital, Beijing, aims to slash consumption by 13 million tonnes, to just 10 million tonnes, over the same period. Tianjin used 47 million tonnes last year, and aims to cut 10 million tonnes by 2017.

While Beijing has already shut and relocated its steel mills, Hebei and Tianjin together produced more than 200 million tonnes of crude steel last year. They are under orders to close at least 60 million tonnes of low-quality plants by 2017, and Hebei's leaders have already threatened to fire officials who allow even a tonne of additional capacity on their patch.

With idle capacity in the northern region approaching 100 million tonnes and with many plants on the brink of bankruptcy, the closure targets might not have as great an impact on emissions as policymakers hope.

Beijing has promised to bar construction of new industrial plants like steel smelters, cement factories or oil refineries in three major "low-emission" regions - Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin, the Yangtze river delta region centring on Shanghai and the Pearl river delta region in southern Guangdong province.

The environment ministry has said the regions are responsible for 55 per cent of national steel production, 40 per cent of total cement output and 52 per cent of petrol and diesel, despite covering just 8 per cent of the country's total area.

A former health minister said last year pollution related to coal-fired power causes up to 500,000 premature deaths annually. Greenpeace research showed that coal-fired power plants in Hebei and Tianjin were responsible for as many as 9,900 premature deaths in 2011 alone.