China will shut down small-scale “scattered” coal burning in two heavily coal-dependent provinces by 2020 in the next stage of its war on pollution, a senior environmental official said on Wednesday. Zhao Yingmin, vice-minister of ecology and environment, said the two northern provinces of Shanxi and Shaanxi were chosen as key targets in the country’s anti-smog efforts over the 2018-2020 period. China issues energy action plan to tackle smog by using less coal Around 90 per cent of the two provinces’ energy needs were met by coal, and emissions of hazardous breathable particles known as PM2.5 were second only to the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, he said. “The readjustment of the target zones is a result of comprehensive assessment of the impact of PM2.5 in different regions,” Zhao said. “Despite tremendous improvements in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region over the last five years, it still ranks as the most polluted.” After forcing industrial-scale coal users like power plants and steel mills to install technologies to curb emissions, China has already been shifting focus towards what it calls “scattered” pollution sources, including backstreet workshops and rural heating facilities. China last year completed a groundbreaking action plan aimed at curbing pollution in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei as well as the manufacturing hubs of the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas. It is about to publish a new programme covering the 2018-2020 period. China’s Xian chokes on smog specks ‘harder than steel’ Zhao said the Pearl River Delta, which includes the major financial centre of Shenzhen near Hong Kong, would not be covered in the new plan, with the region one of the few to reach the interim state PM2.5 standard of 35 micrograms per cubic metre last year. He said another target zone over the 2018-2020 period would be the far northwestern border region of Xinjiang, a rising coal producer where PM2.5 concentrations have continued to increase. Experts have called on the government to adopt a more flexible approach to air pollution in the coming years, saying the “one size fits all” policies of the past are no longer effective. They have also urged China to tackle rising ground-level ozone, known as “sunburn for the lungs” and caused mainly by the interaction of sunlight with vehicle exhaust fumes. Worst smog of the year leaves Beijing choking as US embassy’s air quality reading hits 545 However, Zhao said the country would continue to focus on PM2.5 until the end of the decade. Average PM2.5 concentrations in 338 monitored cities fell 6.5 per cent to 43 micrograms per cubic metre last year. China aims to reach its “interim” national standard of 35 micrograms by around 2035.