China to strengthen efforts to maintain blue skies with three-year action plan

Chinese women wear masks as haze from smog caused by air pollution hangs over the Forbidden City on November 15, 2015 in Beijing, China. Photo: Getty Images

Following the success in reaching the goals set by the five-year national plan for reducing air pollution levels adopted in 2013, China is mulling a new three-year action plan in an effort to maintain the hard-earned environmental achievement.

The pollution-stricken country is planning to make an action plan for the next three years to win the battle for better air quality, with a focus on the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and its surrounding areas, the Yangtze River Delta and other polluted places, the official Xinhua News Agency reported recently.

A major target set by the three-year action plan is for cities at the prefecture level and above to achieve 80 percent of a year, or about 292 days, of good air quality by 2020 when the average concentration of PM2.5, the tiny airborne particles that are toxic to humans and the key indicator of air pollution, in the cities which failed to reach the air pollution reduction standards would drop by 18 percent compared with the figures in 2015, Xinhua quoted the country's environment minister Li Ganjie as saying.

"The key to winning the war of reducing and preventing pollution lies in winning the blue-sky battle. In order to enhance the people's sense of happiness, (we need to) further pull down the density of PM2.5 and obviously reduce the number of heavily polluted days in a bid to improve the air quality," Li said at a recent national work conference for environmental protection, according to the Xinhua report.

This year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection will center the supervision work on the key target areas to prevent air pollution from resurfacing, said Li, adding that foreign waste processing would be a top concern for the environmental inspectors when they assess the environmental protection work of the provincial officials in 2018.

Although China met the targets of the five-year air pollution reduction plan in 2017, 71 percent of 338 cities at the prefecture level and above failed to reach the air quality standards, official data showed.

Since 2014 when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared war on pollution with the same determination the government used to fight poverty in his government work report delivered to the annual session of the 12th National People's Congress, the country has carried out a series of policies to deal with pollution problems, particularly in the smog-shrouded northern areas around Beijing, including increasing the use of green energy such as natural gas and electricity for heating, phasing out the use of coal-burning boilers, urging coal-burning power and steel plants to adopt low-emission technologies as well as increasing fines on polluting enterprises. The Chinese government is also mulling an all-out ban on the production and sales of gasoline-powered cars, which will be replaced by electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Last year, Beijing stood out among the northern cities which are notorious for smog with surprising data from the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, which showed that the number of days with good air quality amounted to 226 days, compared with 2016 when the blue-sky days numbered 198. The annual average density of PM2.5 dropped 20 percent to 58 micrograms per cubic meter last year from 2016, according to the data.

The delightful result in a large part stemmed from Beijing's efforts to remove more than 600 polluting enterprises last year mostly in the manufacturing sector out of the Chinese capital, which is relocating the polluting industries and "non-capital functions" to other provinces in order to curb pollution and relieve traffic congestion and pressure on public services.

Beijing will close down some 1,000 manufacturing companies by 2020, according to a long-term plan, which focuses on introducing the advanced industries and controlling pollution.

However, the Chinese government's decree of switching to natural gas and electricity from coal for heating during the winter days led to complaints from people in the country's northern provinces. Media reports said that the people in some remote northern villages, whose coal-burning stoves were dumped in accordance to the mandatory order, suffered from cold due to a lack of natural gas and electricity there.

The stories triggered a heated discussion among the Internet users, who said that those people living without heating shared blue sky with the people living in the cities except for warmness, calling for the government to strike a balance between the environmental efforts and people's livelihood.

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