Dec 06, 2016 06:38 PM

China Unveils New Plan to Clean Air, Water, Soil

(Beijing) — The State Council, China's cabinet, released on Monday a national environmental improvement plan that requires the nation's 300-plus largest cities to ensure that air quality is "good" or "excellent" 292 days annually — 4 out of 5 days — by 2020.

This represents a 3.3% increase from the current 280 days, a small but significant improvement in the large cities under government watch, analysts said.

Authorities in smog-plagued places such as Beijing are under particular pressure to do their part to help meet the national target, Zhao Chenxin, the spokesperson for the National Development and Reform Commission, told state-run China National Radio earlier this year.

In the short term, the Beijing city government's target is to have 204 blue-sky days annually, meaning that the city's Air Quality Index (AQI) reading should be 100 or lower on 56% of the days, according to a draft five-year plan released by the city government earlier last month.

The State Council also outlined 11 other targets to counter air and water pollution and soil contamination, according to Monday's plan.

Large cities in which PM2.5 concentrations on average exceed the internationally accepted level of 35 micrograms per cubic meter are also required to cut PM2.5 levels by 18% in the five-year period from 2016 to 2020, according to the national plan.

Air quality is considered healthy when the level of PM2.5 — cancer-causing particulates that are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter — is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air, according to the World Health Organization.

But PM2.5 levels in many Chinese cities, particularly Beijing, Tianjin and many other places in northern China, often exceed that level ten- to twentyfold.

Much of the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and surrounding Hebei province were hit by a new bout of smog over the weekend as PM2.5 levels surged passed 500 micrograms per cubic meter of air to push the AQI off the scale.

The environmental protection plan also targets problems linked to the discharged of untreated sewage, aiming to cut the amount of surface water rated as heavily polluted or unusable for irrigation, from 9.7% in 2016 to 5% in 2020.

To tackle water pollution, large cities are required to spend the next few years cleaning up some 1,860 heavily polluted waterways named in a national list released in late February.

The central government is also aiming to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide, a major pollutant from coal-burning, by 15% nationally from 2016 to 2020.

Subsequently, Beijing, Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Shandong and Henan are required to cut coal consumption by about 10% in the five-year period, the State Council said.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (; editor Kerry Nelson (

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