China to shut down steel plants for 5 months to curb Beijing winter pollution

China will either shut down or curtail operations at dozens of steel plants over the next five months under an aggressive action plan to reduce winter pollution in Beijing and its surrounding areas, a new report has stated.

A number of steel plants in northern China, which usually faces heavy to severe winter pollution every year, will be shut down before Christmas as part of the green strategy.

“The measures are part of an aggressive action plan that aims to cut wintertime particulate pollution by 15% year-on-year over the next five months. These cuts are badly needed as Beijing and the surrounding industrial provinces have suffered the winter’s first serious episode this week (last week of October), with PM 2.5 levels across several provinces reaching ‘very unhealthy’ levels,” the report by environmental advocacy group Greenpeace said.

The new measures are set to take full effect in mid-November, and will continue through the winter.

“The operating restrictions will affect one quarter of China’s total steel-making capacity and approximately 10% of its cement production. The measures are expected to cut national steel output by over 10% in the next five months and could prevent (the emission of) as much CO2 as Denmark and Finland emit in one year,” the report added.

Greenpeace energy analyst Lauri Myllyvirta stated in a presentation shared with media that among the other measures being put in place by China to curb winter pollution are output restrictions on aluminium plants; closure of cement and coking plants; installation of a new environmental protection bureau; ramped-up central enforcement agencies that would conduct tens of thousands of inspections; replacement of coal heating and cooking in three million households; a ban on construction activities; and restrictions on heavy trucks.

Myllyvirta described the steel industry as a “dominant source of air pollutant emissions in the Beijing region, given that the surrounding Hebei province is the world’s largest producer of the metal and has poorer emission control performance than other large producer provinces”.

Though the five-month shutdown of factories is temporary, the plan envisages a new joint environmental protection bureau covering Beijing and two surrounding provinces with a focus on enforcing industrial emission norms.

Stressing on the campaign’s “forward-looking aspect”, Chinese environmental minister Li Ganjie said: “These special campaigns are not one-off measures. Instead, they are an exploration of long-term mechanisms.”

Myllyvirta said it was interesting to note the manner in which President Xi Jinping referred to the environment in his inaugural speech at the 19th national congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which concluded in Beijing late last month.

Xi mentioned the words “environment” and “ecological civilisation” 20 and 12 times respectively in his speech, which lasted for over three hours.

The number of times he mentioned coal? Zero.

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