China vows big winter air pollution cuts in northern cities
China has pledged to cut average concentrations of airborne particles known as PM2.5 by more than 15 per cent year on year in 28 northern cities from October to March to meet key smog targets, the environment ministry said.
In a 143-page winter smog “battle plan” dated Monday but posted on its website on Thursday, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said the new target would apply to Beijing and Tianjin, along with 26 other cities in the smog-prone provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong and Henan.
China’s efforts to control pollution have often roiled prices for steel, iron ore and coal as regulations frequently result in cuts of output of these and other commodities.
China is under pressure this year to meet politically important 2017 air quality targets. It aims to cut 2012 levels of PM2.5 by more than a quarter in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and bring average concentrations down to 60 micrograms per cubic metre in the Chinese capital.
But average concentrations were up in the first seven months of the year as a result of near record-high smog in January and February that China blamed on “unfavourable weather conditions”.
But analysts said China was still on course to meet the 2017 targets set out in a groundbreaking air quality action plan published by the government in 2013.
“Actually, air quality from April to June was among the best over the last five years in Beijing and we still have confidence in achieving the (2012-2017) target,” said Shelley Yang, a project manager at the Clean Air Alliance of China (CAAC).
The government is leaving nothing to chance, with some of the country’s smoggiest cities under pressure to complete annual steel and coal closure targets by the end of September and implement tougher restrictions in the following months.
By October, big steelmaking cities like Tangshan and Handan must have plans in place to cut output by as much as half to limit smog during the winter heating season starting in November.
The region is also under pressure to eliminate thousands of coal-fired boilers, further restrict coal haulage on roads and ensure that power generators, steel mills and coking plants complete upgrades aimed at controlling emissions before heating systems are switched on.
Hebei is responsible for a quarter of the country’s steel output, with Tangshan alone producing around 100 million tonnes a year, more than the United States. Neighbouring Shanxi is China’s biggest coal producer, with more than 900 million tonnes of annual output.
In a note this week, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts said the winter restrictions could also reduce primary aluminium output by 400,000 tonnes this year.
In a separate notice on Thursday, the government of Hebei province promised to use an “iron fist” to deal with air pollution over winter, with provincial governor Xu Qin promising to respond quickly to unfavourable weather and implement emergency smog prevention plans.
CAAC is a non-profit organisation that includes academic institutions, provincial governments and other non-profits that “care about clean air”, it says on its website.