China to cut coal use, shut down polluters, in bid to clear the air
By David Stanway, ReutersBEIJING -- China unveiled comprehensive new measures to tackle air pollution on Thursday, 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.
September 13, 2013, 12:06 am TWN
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.
It has also been anxious to head off potential sources of unrest as an increasingly affluent urban population turns against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has spoiled much of China's air, water and soil.
China published the plan on its official website (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, 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,” 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 tons 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 in 2012. 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 12.5 GW now and slightly accelerating a previous 2020 target of 58 GW.