More than two dozen cities in north China have drawn up a detailed action plan to address the notorious winter smog.
Targets and deadlines were outlined in the action plan, which was drafted by several ministries and the governments of Beijing, Tianjin, and 26 smaller cities in the provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong and Henan.
By the end of October, 13 cities including Beijing vowed to close the majority of polluting businesses that operate on a small scale, provide low-end services, hold insufficient licenses, or do not have sufficient emission treatment facilities.
In the next seven months, the cities of Beijing, Tianjin and neighboring Langfang and Baoding will ban the use of small coal-fired furnaces for winter heating. Areas in these cities will be declared completely “coal free.”
Air pollution is more astutely felt in north China in winter. While high concentrations of industrial and vehicle emissions are the main culprits, static air and the use of coal for winter heating only worsen the situation, experts say.
Provinces around Beijing are also home to the country's major steel-makers, coal mines, aluminum producers, and chemical plants.
The action plan reads that cities with dense heavy industries in the provinces of Hebei and Henan will implement a seasonal reduction on steel output capacity, aiming to slash it by half this winter. Aluminum and chemical plants will also scale down production.
Regarding car exhausts, all 28 cities will install monitoring facilities to watch over diesel and high-emitting petrol vehicles. The port of Tianjin will stop receiving coal by road. Most cargo will be transferred to rail.
A name-and-shame list is ready for local officials as well. According to the plan, the Ministry of Environmental Protection will publish a monthly list profiling the work undertaken by 28 cities to improve air quality. It will be a “major” criterion on performance evaluations of officials.
According to a national action plan issued in September 2013, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region should cut PM2.5, a key indicator of air pollution, by 25 percent from the 2012 levels by 2017.
Despite years of efforts to address pollution and a substantial drop of average PM2.5 density, large parts of China still suffer from frequent and severe smog in winter.
The average PM2.5 density in 2016 in the region is 71 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down 33 percent than the 2013 levels. But the density in January and February surged 48 percent year on year to 111 micrograms per cubic meter of air in 13 cities of the region.
Hebei Province has targeted to further cut PM2.5 density by 10 percent in 2017, and by 15 percent in winter, from the 2016 levels.
To curb winter emissions, the province plans to adjust its energy structure and lower coal consumption, provincial Party head Zhao Kezhi said at an air pollution control meeting on Friday.
This year the province will require 1.8 million households in 134 counties to replace their coal-fired furnaces with gas or electric heaters, said Zhao.
Energy planning official Ma Haiyan with Langfang City, one of the coal-free zones near Beijing, said the city government has offered a grant of 7,900 yuan (1,150 U.S. dollars) or 9,800 yuan who upgrade to gas or electricity heaters.
The province this year will also launch a campaign to reduce consumption of inferior coal, said Zhao.
A sampling inspection showed that only 35 percent of coal consumption in rural area was qualified and 40 percent of coal products from dealers met the required standards.
Coal accounts for 86 percent of the entire structure of primary energy consumption, and bulk coal takes over 88 percent of combustion sources, a major contributor to PM2.5 emission. Total bulk coal consumption in Hebei's rural area reaches 31.4 million tonnes, according to Zhao.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said earlier this month that coal-burning, automobile exhausts and dust will be reduced to tackle the smog, acknowledging it takes time to win the battle.