China Seeks to Eliminate Heavily Polluted Days in Decade

China said it will reduce coal consumption, close steel plants and control the number of cars on its roads in an effort to “gradually eliminate” heavily polluted days in as soon as a decade.

Air pollution “harms the people’s health and undermines social harmony and stability,” the State Council, China’s cabinet, said in a plan posted to the central government’s website today. Ensuring clean air affects the sustainability of economic growth and the ability to fulfill the “dream of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation.”

The State Council’s plan fleshes out Premier Li Keqiang’s pledge in March to clean up pollution, which has become the top cause of social unrest in China. Concentrations of the most-damaging particulate matter in Beijing soared to almost 40 times the World Health Organization’s recommended level in January, spurring calls for government action.

“China’s political leadership has set an ambitious time line to solve China’s air pollution crisis, responding to the mandate set by the Chinese public,” Li Yan, climate and energy campaign manager at Greenpeace East Asia, said in an e-mailed statement. “The targets can only be met by tackling China’s coal consumption growth and the plan takes very important steps in that direction.”

PM2.5 Levels

Authorities aim to cut the concentration of PM2.5, the fine particles that pose the greatest health risk, by 25 percent in Beijing, Tianjin and surrounding Hebei province by 2017 from 2012 levels. They’ll seek to reduce concentrations by 20 percent in Shanghai and the Yangtze River delta and by 15 percent in southern China’s Pearl River delta, according to the plan.

These regions should also strive to reduce total coal usage, replacing it with electricity generated in other locations or with power produced from natural gas or non-fossil fuels, according to the plan.

Nationwide, China aims to cut the share of coal in total energy consumption to below 65 percent by 2017. Coal is now more than 70 percent, according to Tian Miao, an energy analyst at North Square Blue Oak, a London-based researcher.

China will also cut both iron-making and steel-making capacity by 15 million tons in 2015, according to the plan.

Record Pollution

In January, PM2.5 readings in Beijing surged to a record 993 micrograms per cubic meter. The WHO recommends day-long exposure of no higher than 25. The average concentration of PM2.5 particles in 74 cities monitored by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection was 76 micrograms in the first half.

Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other large Chinese cities should also “strictly” restrict the number of vehicles to curb pollution, according to the plan. Other cities should have “reasonable” controls on the number of cars, it said.

These steps will help cut the number of heavily polluted days by a “relatively big margin” in five years, with China then using the next five or more years to eliminate them, according to the State Council’s plan.

Beijing announced its own plan earlier this month to limit cars and coal burning as it seeks to lower PM2.5 concentrations by 25 percent by 2017. The city plans to limit outdoor barbecues and close 1,200 companies that generate pollutants.

Pollution passed land disputes to become the top cause of social unrest in China, Chen Jiping, a former leading member of the Communist Party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, said in March.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Zhang Dingmin in Beijing at dzhang14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andreea Papuc at apapuc1@bloomberg.net

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