Chinese officials have come under increasing public pressure to reduce air pollution since January, when 19 days of “hazardous” air quality in Beijing sent thousands to hospitals and kept millions more indoors. In response to this and other concerns, the State Council on September 10 issued its National Clean Air Action Plan, which calls for cutting coal use and promoting clean energy production to improve air quality.
According to the plan, levels of airborne PM 10—inhalable particulate matter 1/10 the size of a human hair—will be reduced nationally by 10 percent through 2017. In key areas such as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Pearl River Delta, airborne concentrations of PM 10 will be reduced by even more—25 percent, 20 percent, and 15 percent, respectively.
To achieve these goals, the plan calls for the promotion of clean fuel and new energy vehicles, better management of industrial air pollution and urban traffic, improved standards and oversight, and the implementation of tax policies to reform natural gas pricing. Specifically, the plan sets standards of reducing nationwide coal use to less than 65 percent of total energy consumption, from a current 66 percent, and increasing non-fossil fuel energy use to 13 percent, from a current 11.4 percent.
The State Council has also called for the shuttering of “outdated production capacity” in heavy industry sectors like iron, steel, and cement. It has further called for increasing China’s installed nuclear capacity from its current 12.5 gigawatts to 50 gigawatts and adding 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas pipeline capacity by 2017.
This nationwide plan is in line with Beijing’s Clean Air Action Plan, which was released on September 2. That plan covers a five-year period from 2013 to 2017, and focuses on reducing air pollution from motor vehicles, coal, and other industrial emissions. Goals include limiting the number of vehicles in Beijing to fewer than six million, reducing volatile organic compounds emissions in key industries by 10 percent annually, and reducing total emissions by 50 percent, all by 2017.
The stronger push for controlling pollution was also reiterated by Premier Li Keqiang, who said at the Summer Davos conference on September 10 that China cannot walk the old road of “pollute first, clean later.” He called for further measures to address pollution problems, such as reducing coal consumption by 8 million tons in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. He also emphasized the importance of developing the energy-saving and environmental protection sectors.
The National Clean Air Action Plan indicates that central government efforts to tackle pollution are more concerted and comprehensive than before. The strengthening of supervision measures and the disclosure of environmental information also appear to be positive steps. The State Council indicated that it will assess provincial progress through a 2015 mid-year evaluation, among other measures. It remains to be seen what implementation will look like and whether local governments—particularly in Beijing and other key areas—will be incentivized to cut vehicle usage and reduce coal and other polluting emissions.