Chinese authorities have released their latest targets for air quality in northern China this fall and winter, easing standards for pollution controls across the region by several percentage points on average.
On Sept. 27, China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) and other commissions jointly issued an air pollution-control plan for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region (abbreviated in Chinese as Jing-jin-ji) and surrounding areas for the fall and winter spanning 2018-2019.
The new plan calls for a 3-percent reduction of PM2.5, or atmospheric particulate matter, in the designated region beginning Oct. 1 and extending through March 31, 2019, compared with the year-ago period.
PM2.5 refers to pollution particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or about 3 percent the width of a human hair.
Shijiazhuang, a city of several million people and the capital of Hebei Province, has some of the worst air quality in the entire country. In 2017, it was required to reduce PM2.5 emissions by 25 percent; the target for this year is just 4.5 percent. The city is required to reduce the number of “severely polluted” days by just two. No requirements have been issued for Beijing at this time.
Lowering controls on PM2.5 is likely to be the Chinese regime’s means of helping correct China’s weak macroeconomic situation, resulting from uncertainty caused by the trade war with the United States, and also market pessimism, according to a Sept. 28 financial report from Sina, a large Chinese media outlet.
Lin Jiang, a professor of economics at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, southern China, told Radio Free Asia on Sept. 28 that he believes the relaxed targets issued by the Chinese central and local authorities are directly related to the Sino-US trade war.
“In severe economic conditions, this is the last resort for local governments,” Lin said. “For example, it’s probably difficult for large-scale enterprises like steel mills to meet environmental protection requirements. If the relevant departments insist on such high standards, these enterprises might simply close their businesses. It would have a serious impact on the local economy.”
Chinese government data shows that from January to August this year, the 10 worst cities ranked by PM2.5 pollution and air quality are distributed in and around Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei.
According to “The Urban Blue Book 2017,” issued by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences at the end of September last year, the Jing-jin-ji region suffered the most serious air pollution in all of China. The average annual concentration of PM2.5 in Beijing in 2016 was twice that allowed by national environmental standards.
In mid-August, to improve the air quality in Beijing, the MEE issued a restrictive environmental protection plan for the Jing-jin-ji ara. It required that the production schedules for the steel, coking, and foundry industries should take turns peaking to reduce air pollution.
The production of steel in hot weather was limited to 50 percent of capacity in key cities; other cities were told to cut production by no less than 30 percent. Enterprises that failed to follow these regulations would have their electricity cut.
The newly released plan, apart from lowering emissions control targets, removes limits on production and gives local governments authority to carry out the regulations.