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China vows air pollution cuts in major cities

China vows air pollution cuts in major cities

Thursday, 12 September, 2013 [Updated: 6:10PM]

Agence France-Presse in Beijing

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Another day, another challenging ride through Beijing”s smog-engulfed streets. Photo: EPA

China vowed on Thursday to reduce levels of atmospheric pollutants in Beijing and other major cities by as much as 25 per cent to try to improve their dire air quality.

In a policy document the State Council, or cabinet, said “concentrations of fine particles” in the capital’s air will fall by “approximately 25 per cent” from 2012 levels by 2017.

Other major Chinese cities including Shanghai will see reductions of between 10 and 20 per cent from 2012 levels over the same period, said the plan, posted on the central government’s website.

Cities across China have been hit by intense air pollution in recent years, much of it caused by emissions from coal-burning power stations, with levels of small particles known as PM2.5 reaching as high as 40 times World Health Organisation (WHO) limits this year.

The pollution has been linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, and has tarnished the image of Chinese cities including Beijing, which saw an almost 15 per cent drop in tourist visits during the first half of this year.

The plan said pollution levels would be cut by slowing coal consumption growth so that its share of China’s energy sources fell to 65 per cent by 2017.

It did not specify current levels, but the US Energy Information Administration estimates that coal provided 70 per cent of China’s energy in 2009.

China is the world’s biggest coal consumer and is forecast to account for more than half of global demand next year.

Three of China’s most populated regions – including the areas surrounding Beijing and the manufacturing hub of the Pearl River delta – should “strive to achieve a reduction in total consumption of coal”, the plan said.

It did not state any precise targets for reductions.

Activists gave the proposals a mixed assessment.

The plan “takes very important steps,” towards controlling rapid growth in coal consumption, said Li Yan, climate and energy campaign manager at Greenpeace East Asia.

But to reduce air pollution significantly “it will be necessary to limit coal consumption in other areas as well”, she said in a statement

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