China could fall short on smog targets as industry surges: study

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past as smoke billows from chimneys at a power station in Hefei, Anhui province November 24, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Major industrial areas in northern China are at risk of falling short of their winter pollution targets after surges in the production of steel and cement, the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) said on Thursday.

The heavily industrialised Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, which covers 28 cities, is aiming to keep emissions of small, airborne particles known as PM2.5 from October to December at the same level as a year earlier.

But PM2.5 concentrations in the region stood at 52 micrograms per cubic metre in October, up 15.6% compared to a year earlier, according to official data. November improvements were not big enough to offset the previous month’s jump.

“The targets set for this winter appeared soft, but now a surge in industrial output is putting even these lenient targets at risk,” CREA said.

Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, produced 210.8 million tonnes of crude steel in the first 10 months alone, up 4.1% on the year. Output in October stood at 20.95 million tonnes, up 17% from a year earlier.

China’s top steelmaking province has pledged to cut annual production capacity to 200 million tonnes by the end of the year, but “this target is being rendered meaningless by ‘creative accounting’ of steel capacity,” said CREA.

The environment ministry aims to keep average PM2.5 concentrations in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region at under 63 micrograms per cubic metre from October to December, and then under 86 micrograms from January to March 2021.

The figure is still more than double China’s official air quality standard of 35 micrograms.

China also promised that it would avoid large-scale industrial closures this year, but Hebei and other provinces have already started to shut down cement factories in December in a bid to reduce smog build-ups.

Reporting by David Stanway