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China Vows to Cut Air Pollution during Fall and Winter in 28 Northern Cities

China issued the 2019-2020 Comprehensive Action Plan for Air Pollution Control during Fall and Winter in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region and Nearby Areas, committing to facilitate continued improvements to air quality in 28 northern cities. The average PM2.5 density and the number of days with severe pollution from October 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 in these cities should be cut by 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively, year-on-year.

On October 16, 2019, the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), along with relevant central and local authorities and governments, published the 2019-2020 Comprehensive Action Plan for Air Pollution Control during Fall and Winter in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region and Nearby Areas, setting specific targets for Beijing and Tianjin as well as 26 other cities in the air pollution-prone provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong and Henan.

The plan pledges to slash average PM2.5 density and the number of days with severe pollution in the 2019-2010 fall and winter months (i.e. between October 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020) by 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively, year-on-year. Given the still grim environmental issues and the fact that we are heading into the latter phase of the Three-year Action Plan for Blue Skies [2], it is understandable that the targets are higher than those in last year’s plan (which were both 3 percent).

Notably, differentiated targets are assigned to each city based on their PM2.5 density in the fall and winter months last year and combined reductions in their PM2.5 density in the fall and winter months of previous two years. Beijing will be subject to no specific requirement since it met the targets and registered a lower PM2.5 density level than all other 27 cities last year.

It is explicitly specified in the plan that local governments must not adopt one-size-fits-all solutions or cope with environmental issues in an oversimplified fashion. The second round of central government environmental inspections will prioritize areas where air pollution treatment measures are not implemented effectively, environmental problems are pronounced, and air quality worsens significantly in the fall and winter months.

Meanwhile, the plan, for the first time, requires that enterprises in 15 key sectors (e.g. steel and iron, coking, electrolytic aluminum, pharmaceutics, pesticides) should be divided into three classes and subject to differentiated and dynamic emergency management measures. For example, Class A enterprises, which lead the country in terms of processes, pollution treatment capacity and emissions, can be exempt from emission reduction measures during periods of heavy pollution.

A total of 12 major tasks are laid out in the plan for air pollution control, including adjusting and optimizing industrial structure, accelerating adjustments to structures of energy, transport and land use, effectively handling severe air pollution, enhancing basic capacity building and policy support, etc. For instance, with an eye to optimizing the structure of heavy-polluting sectors, Hebei Province is required to shut down 14 million tons of steel capacities, 3 million tons of coke, 1 million tons of cement and 6.6 million weight boxes of flat glass capacities.

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