China has unveiled sweeping measures to tackle air pollution, with plans to close old polluting steel mills, cement factories and aluminium smelters, and slash coal consumption and boost the use of nuclear power and natural gas.
China has been under heavy pressure to address air pollution after thick and hazardous smog engulfed much of the industrial north, including the capital, Beijing, in January. It has identified coal burning as a key area to tackle.
China said its new plan would aim to cut total coal consumption to below 65% of total primary energy use by 2017, down from 66.8% last year.
It would also aim to raise the share of non-fossil fuel energy to 13% by 2017, up from 11.4% in 2012. Its previous target stood at 15% by 2020. To help meet the target, it would also raise installed nuclear capacity to 50GW by 2017.
By the end of 2015, it said it would add 150bn cubic metres of natural gas trunk pipeline transmission capacity.
China would speed up the closure of old and polluting industrial capacity and “basically complete” work to relocate plants to coastal areas.
It said a 2015 target to close outdated capacity in industrial sectors would be accelerated and it would also halt construction of all unapproved projects in industries facing overcapacity.
“The order to halt construction and stop all production work for unapproved projects is a very tough move. If the government was to strictly enforce this regulation, a lot of aluminium smelters in Xinjiang will be very badly affected since many of them started construction before state approval,” said Liao Zhenyuan, an analyst at Minmetals Futures.
“The market was expecting the government to allow plants that have finished construction, or started production, to continue business as usual. So this is quite a shock.”
China would also speed up the implementation of new vehicle fuel standards, saying that by the end of 2014, all diesel supplies need to comply with standards.
China will also stop approving new thermal power plants in key industrial areas. It will also aim to achieve “negative growth” in coal consumption in the regions.
Experts said China’s bid to tackle coal consumption could be stymied by its weak monitoring capability, especially near coal-producing areas.
“Measuring is still a big problem – even if you look at the provincial energy data and the national data there is a massive discrepancy of around 200-300m tonnes and it could be more than that,” said Yang Fuqiang, senior Beijing-based adviser with the Natural Resources Defence Council.