BEIJING (Reuters) - China unveiled comprehensive new measures to tackle air pollution on Thursday, with plans to close old polluting steel mills, cement factories and aluminium smelters, as well as slash coal consumption and boost nuclear power and natural gas use.
China has been under heavy pressure to address the causes of air pollution after thick and hazardous smog engulfed much of the industrial north, including the capital Beijing, in January this year. It has identified coal burning as one of the key areas it needs to tackle.
China said it its new plan published on its official government website (www.gov.cn) that it would aim to cut total coal consumption to below 65 percent of total primary energy use by 2017, down from 66.8 percent last year.
It would also aim to raise the share of non-fossil fuel energy to 13 percent by 2017, up from 11.4 percent in 2012. Its previous target stood at 15 percent by 2020.
To help meet the target, it would also raise installed nuclear capacity to 50 gigawatts (GW) by 2017, up from 12.5 GW at present and slightly accelerating a previous target of 58 GW by 2020.
By the end of 2015, it said it would add 150 billion cubic metres of natural gas trunk pipeline transmission capacity to cover key industrial areas like the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region in the north and the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas in the east and southeast.
China would speed up the closure of old and polluting industrial capacity and "basically complete" work to relocate plants to coastal areas, as well as tackle pollution and overcapacity in the sectors by 2017.
It said a 2015 target to close outdated capacity in industrial sectors would be accelerated to 2014, and it would also halt construction of all unapproved projects in industries facing overcapacity.
"The order to halt construction and stop all production work for unapproved projects is very a tough move. If the government was to strictly enforce this regulation, a lot of aluminium smelters in Xinjiang will be very badly affected since many of them started construction before getting any state approvals," said Liao Zhenyuan, an analyst at Minmetals Futures.
"The market was expecting the government to allow plants that have finished construction, or started production, to continue business as usual. So this is quite a shock."
China would also speed up the implementation of new automobile fuel standards, saying that by the end of 2014, all diesel supplies need to comply with National IV standards, while National V standards will be applied to key industrial regions by the end of 2015.
China will also stop approving new thermal power plants in key industrial areas. It will also aim to achieve "negative growth" in coal consumption in the regions.
Experts said China's bid to tackle coal consumption could be stymied by the country's weak monitoring capability, especially near coal-producing areas.
"Measuring is still a big problem -- even if you look at the provincial energy data and the national data there is a massive discrepancy of around 200-300 million tonnes and it could be more than that," said Yang Fuqiang, senior Beijing-based adviser with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
(Reporting by David Stanway in BEIJING, Fayen Wong and Ruby Lian in SHANGHAI; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry)