China orders northern cities to cut winter PM2.5 levels by 4% in anti-smog drive

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s northern cities will be required to cut emissions of dangerous PM2.5 particles by an average of 4% this winter, according to a document issued by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment on Wednesday outlining its annual anti-pollution plan for winter.

FILE PHOTO: A man uses his mobile phone as he walks amid smog in Tianjin after the city issued a yellow alert for air pollution, China November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

The target for average concentration of PM2.5 - lung-damaging particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns - applies to a group of 26 smog-prone cities in the north and the two municipalities of Beijing and Tianjin.

But the mandated reduction is lower than the 5.5% cut proposed in an earlier draft of the plan circulated on industry websites last month.

The plan comes as China enters its sixth year of an aggressive clampdown on pollution in a bid to cut smog that envelops many cities during the winter months, when homes and businesses crank up heating.

As part of China’s efforts to put an end to what it calls “one-size-fits-all” anti-pollution measures, cities that performed well in last year’s campaign received preferential treatment. Capital Beijing, for instance, is not required to make any cut from the previous year’s PM2.5 levels, while Tianjin is only required to cut PM2.5 by 1%.

But cities that did not meet last year’s directive had much higher targets, confirming the ministry’s warning last month.

Anyang in Henan province must cut PM2.5 levels by 6.5%, according to the document. Handan and Xingtai in Hebei province, Zhenghzou, Puyang and Kaifeng in Henan and Heze in Shandong province must all cut levels of the particulate matter by 6%.

The ministry also said that 5.24 million households in the cities will switch off coal heating and change to gas or electricity systems by the end of this month - the highest yet since Beijing started its drive to cut use of coal heating.

The ministry also said it would strengthen assessment and supervision of steel industry compliance on ultra-low emission standards.

It has drafted guidelines for monitoring of ultra-low emission engineering in the steel industry: If a company is confirmed to have met ultra-low emission requirements, it will be eligible to receive certain financial incentives.

It added that 100 million tonnes of steelmaking capacity in Hebei province, roughly half of the total in the nation’s major producing region, and 15 million tonnes of steel capacity in Shanxi province will meet ultra-low emissions standards by the end of this year.

Reporting by Dominique Patton and Muyu Xu; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Kenneth Maxwell