China commits to cutting air pollution by 15% in 28 northern cities

People crossing an intersection on a hazy day in Beijing.
People crossing an intersection on a hazy day in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - 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 2017 to March 2018 to meet key smog targets, the environment ministry said.

In a 143-page winter smog battleplan posted on its website on Thursday (Aug 24), 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 curtailment 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 25 per cent 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".

Experts still believe, however, that China remains on course to meet the 2017 targets set out in a ground-breaking 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 project manager Shelley Yang at the Clean Air Alliance of China (CAAC).

The government is leaving nothing to chance, and has already made plans to cut the production of steel and other metals by as much as 50 per cent over winter months in some northern cities in a bid to prevent smog build-ups.

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.