* China to cut coal use to below 65 pct of energy by 2017
* Higher targets for nuclear power and natural gas
* Old polluting mills and factories to be closed
* Loopholes could allow other provinces to raise coal output
(Recasts, adds Greenpeace and analysts' quotes, paragraphs 5,
7, 18, 21-23)
By David Stanway
BEIJING, Sept 12 China unveiled comprehensive
new measures to tackle air pollution on Thursday, with plans to
slash coal consumption and close polluting mills, factories and
smelters, but experts said implementing the bold targets would
be a major challenge.
China has been under heavy pressure to address the causes of
air pollution after thick, hazardous smog engulfed much of the
industrial north, including the capital, Beijing, in January.
It has also been anxious to head off potential sources of
unrest as an increasingly affluent urban population turns
against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has spoiled
much of China's air, water and soil.
China published the plan on its official website
(www.gov.cn), also promising to boost nuclear power and natural
gas use. Environmentalists welcomed the plan but were sceptical
about its effective implementation.
"The coal consumption reduction targets for key industrial
areas are a good sign they are taking air pollution and public
health more seriously, but to make those targets happen, the
action plan is a bit disappointing and there are loopholes,"
said Huang Wei, a campaigner with Greenpeace in Beijing.
Beijing has struggled to get wayward provinces and
industries to adhere to its anti-pollution measures and there
were few concrete measures in the new plan to help strengthen
its ability to monitor and punish those who violate the rules.
"We don't see any fundamental structural changes, and this
could be a potential risk in China's efforts to meet targets to
reduce PM 2.5," said Huang, referring to China's plan to cut a
key indicator of air pollution by 25 percent in Beijing and
surrounding provinces by 2017.
Coal, which supplies more than three-quarters of China's
total electricity needs, has been identified as one of the main
areas it needs to tackle. China would cut total consumption of
the fossil fuel to below 65 percent of primary energy use by
2017 under the new plan, down from 66.8 percent last year.
Green groups were expecting the action plan to include
detailed regional coal consumption cuts, but those cuts appear
to have been left to the provinces to settle themselves.
Northern Hebei province, China's biggest steel-producing
region, has announced it would slash coal use by 40 million
tonnes over the 2012-2015 period.
Other targets in the plan were also generally in line with a
previous plans. It said it would 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
To help meet that target, it would raise installed nuclear
capacity to 50 gigawatts (GW) by 2017, up from 12.5 GW now and
slightly accelerating a previous 2020 target of 58 GW.
It would add 150 billion cubic metres of natural gas trunk
pipeline transmission capacity by the end of 2015 to cover
industrial areas like the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the
Yangtze and Pearl river deltas in the east and southeast.
CLOSING CAPACITY, OPENING LOOPHOLES
China has long sought to use tougher anti-pollution controls
to tackle overcapacity in sprawling and ill-regulated industries
like iron and steel, aluminium and cement. The iron and steel
sector is the second biggest consumer of coal after power.
Thursday's plan said China would speed up the closure of old
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 also 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. Experts said the impact would be limited.
"For aluminium, a lot of the production was never approved
by state government but was haphazardly approved by local
governments, so what has already come online cannot be
reversed," said Yongan Futures base metals analyst Zhu Shiwei.
Zhu said the measures might at least curb new capacity growth.
China would also stop approving new thermal power plants and
cut coal consumption in industrial areas, although Greenpeace's
Huang said the target didn't appear to be mandatory.
Hebei would cut coal consumption by 40 million tonnes from
2012 to 2017, and Beijing had also promised to reduce its total
consumption by 13 million tonnes to less than 10 million tonnes
over the same period. Others, including the heavy industrial hub
of Shandong and the manufacturing base of Jiangsu, both on the
eastern coast, were likely to follow.
However, eastern coastal regions would be allowed to source
more thermal electricity from other provinces through the power
grid, raising the possibility that China's coal consumption
would be moved inland rather than actually reduced.
"For (big coal-producing) places like Shanxi and Inner
Mongolia, this might be a potential loophole for them to
actually increase their coal consumption," Huang said.
Experts also said China's bid to tackle coal consumption
could be stymied by its weak monitoring capability.
"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.
(Additional reporting by Fayen Wong and Ruby Lian in SHANGHAI;
Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait)