China yesterday unveiled comprehensive new measures to tackle air pollution, with plans to slash coal consumption and close polluting mills, factories and smelters, but experts said implementing the bold targets would be a major challenge.
China has been under heavy pressure to address the causes of air pollution after thick, hazardous smog engulfed much of the industrial north, including the capital, Beijing, in January.
China published the plan on the www.gov.cn, also promising to boost nuclear power and natural gas use. Environmentalists welcomed the plan, but were skeptical about its effective implementation.
“The coal consumption reduction targets for key industrial areas are a good sign they are taking air pollution and public health more seriously, but to make those targets happen, the action plan is a bit disappointing and there are loopholes,” said Huang Wei (黃瑋), a campaigner with Greenpeace in Beijing.
Beijing has struggled to get wayward provinces and industries to adhere to its anti-pollution measures and there were few concrete measures in the new plan to help strengthen its ability to monitor and punish those who violate the rules.
“We don’t see any fundamental structural changes, and this could be a potential risk in China’s efforts to meet targets to reduce PM 2.5 [microns],” said Huang, referring to China’s plan to cut a key indicator of air pollution by 25 percent in Beijing and surrounding provinces by 2017.
Coal, which supplies more than three-quarters of China’s total electricity needs, has been identified as one of the main areas it needs to tackle. China would cut total consumption of the fossil fuel to below 65 percent of primary energy use by 2017 under the new plan, down from 66.8 percent last year. Green groups were expecting the action plan to include detailed regional coal consumption cuts, but those cuts appear to have been left to the provinces to settle themselves.
Northern Hebei Province, China’s biggest steel-producing region, has announced it would slash coal use by 40 million tonnes over the 2012-2015 period. Other targets in the plan were also generally in line with a previous plans. It said it would aim to raise the share of non-fossil fuel energy to 13 percent by 2017, up from 11.4 percent last year. Its previous target stood at 15 percent by 2020.
To help meet that target, it would raise installed nuclear capacity to 50 gigawatts (GW) by 2017, up from 12.5GW now and slightly accelerating a previous 2020 target of 58GW.
It would add 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas trunk pipeline transmission capacity by the end of 2015 to cover industrial areas like the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas in the east and southeast.
China would also speed up the closure of old industrial capacity and “basically complete” work to relocate plants to coastal areas, as well as tackle pollution and overcapacity in the sectors by 2017.
A 2015 target to close outdated capacity in industrial sectors would be accelerated to next year, and it would also halt construction of all unapproved projects in industries facing overcapacity. Experts said the impact would be limited.
“For aluminum, a lot of the production was never approved by state government, but was haphazardly approved by local governments, so what has already come online cannot be reversed,” Yongan Futures base metals analyst Zhu Shiwei said.