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China's Top Coal Province Pledges 40 Percent Smog Cut over Winter

In this Dec. 30, 2016 photo, a truck leaves a sprawling complex that is a part of the Jiujiang steel and rolling mills in Qianan in northern China's Hebei province.

Northern China’s Shanxi province, the country’s top coal producing region, will aim to cut concentrations of hazardous airborne particles known as PM2.5 by 40 percent over the winter months, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The province will also aim to cut concentrations of sulphur dioxide — a key component of smog — by 40 percent over the October-March period, Xinhua said, citing the province’s environmental
protection bureau.

China is struggling to meet politically important 2017 air pollution targets, with the coming winter season expected to see smog worsen in some regions, particularly in the north.

The World Health Organization recommends PM2.5 concentrations of no more than 10 micrograms per cubic meter, yet China’s official air quality target is only 35 micrograms and much of the country records well above that level.

Shanxi has already promised to put its municipal governments under more pressure to meet pollution targets, saying city mayors and top Communist Party officials will be held fully accountable if air quality in the province declines this winter.

The province is one of six northern regions included in an intensive campaign to reduce smog this winter.

FILE - Heavy smog is seen during a polluted day at the Daming Lake in Jinan, Shandong province, China, Jan. 5, 2017.
FILE - Heavy smog is seen during a polluted day at the Daming Lake in Jinan, Shandong province, China, Jan. 5, 2017.

In a groundbreaking policy document published in 2013, China pledged to reduce PM2.5 by more than 25 percent in the heavily polluted region of Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin.

It also vowed to bring PM2.5 concentrations down to 60 micrograms per cubic meter in the Chinese capital.

A spike in smog in January and February this year has put the targets in jeopardy, forcing the government to take special action to reduce industrial activity in the region this winter, especially when residential heating systems are switched on next month.

According to a 143-page document published in August, 28 cities in northern China will aim to cut PM2.5 levels by at least 15 percent this winter, with Beijing aiming to make cuts of more than 25 percent from October to March 2018.