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Heavy fog in Nanjing in eastern China earlier this month. Photo: Reuters

China drawing up ‘fresh battle plan’ to tackle smog

Government says it is working on a three-year initiative to further tackle the country’s chronic air pollution

China is drawing up plans to extend curbs on smog from this year to 2020, an environment ministry official said on Wednesday, after a five-year crackdown on pollution helped it meet its air quality targets last month.

Liu Youbin, a spokesman at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said officials were now working on “a three-year battle plan in the war to protect blue skies”, involving tighter regulations for major industrial regions like Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas.

He did not say when details would be released.

China’s previous action plan against smog, covering 2013-2017, forced the smog-prone Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region to take action to reduce concentrations of hazardous particles known as PM2.5 by more than 25 per cent.

Despite near-record PM2.5 readings in January and February last year, northern China managed to meet 2013-2017 air quality targets by the end of 2017, largely thanks to a campaign that forced polluting factories in 28 cities to reduce output over the winter.

The campaign is due to end in March and amid concerns that enterprises and local governments could lower their guard after reaching the 2017 targets, China has also been trying to “normalise compliance” and put firms under more permanent scrutiny and pressure.

Beijing has already sought to impose new “special emissions restrictions” on enterprises in major industrial sectors in northern China.
Smog shrouds the Beijing skyline earlier this month. Photo: EPA-EFE

Liu told reporters at a briefing that China would continue to tackle “scattered” coal-burning sources – a major source of uncontrolled pollution in provinces like Hebei – and would also “steadily” promote clean energy heating.

Hebei was forced to suspend its plans to convert large numbers of coal-fired heating boilers to natural gas after winter supply shortages left thousands of households without heat.

Liu Zhiquan, head of the ministry’s monitoring office, said at the briefing that average PM2.5 readings for the whole of China from January 1 to January 28 stood at 64 micrograms per cubic metre, down 20 per cent on the year.

Concentrations in Beijing fell 70.5 per cent to 36 micrograms per cubic metre, close to the state standard of 35 micrograms.

However, average readings in the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas actually increased over the month, he said, without giving details.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing planning to extend smog crackdown to 2020