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Reuters analysis suggests only six of 39 smog-prone northern Chinese cities cut PM2.5 concentrations in the latest winter anti-smog campaign. Photo: Simon Song

China’s war on smog targets coal-fired power and diesel trucks – and will punish failing cities

  • In third winter of curbs, cities that have failed air standards must make further PM2.5 cuts as part of Beijing’s campaign to counter pollution
  • Ministry to encourage cleaner fuels and crack down harder on substandard diesel vehicles

China will extend winter anti-smog measures such as production cuts and traffic restrictions for a third winter in a row, the environment ministry said in a pollution battle plan for 2019 published on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) also vowed to speed up the elimination of small coal-fired heating boilers in major regions. It will step up the elimination of outdated and excessive production capacity in polluting sectors such as steel, coal and coal-fired power.

China is in the sixth year of a “ war on pollution” aimed at reversing the damage done by more than three decades of breakneck economic growth, and it has taken action to eliminate outdated vehicles and production technology, cut industrial emissions and ease its dependence on coal.

However, according to Reuters analysis, only six of 39 smog-prone northern Chinese cities have managed to cut concentrations of hazardous airborne particles known as PM2.5 during the latest winter anti-smog campaign beginning last October. Average PM2.5 concentrations actually rose 13 per cent over the period.

That will mean the cities have to make further cuts this year. The MEE’s new plan said cities that failed to meet air quality standards this winter would have to cut PM2.5 by at least 2 per cent in 2019.

Liu Bingjiang, a senior MEE official, said on Tuesday that while the rebound was partly caused by weather anomalies, some local governments believed they deserved “a rest after years of hardship” to meet the anti-smog measures. He added that those governments would face punishment.

The 2019 action plan outlined further steps this year to control coal consumption. The ministry said it would help draw up new measures aimed at encouraging the use of cleaner-burning replacement fuels and speed up efforts to eliminate small and inefficient coal-fired heating boilers in smog-prone regions.

It said it would further promote the implementation of ultra-low-emission coal-fired power in western regions, and encourage steel mills to install ultra-low-emission technology.

The ministry vowed to crack down harder on the production, import and use of substandard diesel vehicles, encourage bulk commodity deliveries by trains rather than trucks, and make use of satellite technology to monitor rural air pollution sources.