SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The northern Chinese province of Hebei will cut smog by a further 15 percent by 2020 and aims to make almost half its groundwater supplies safe for human use by the end of the decade, according to a policy document released late on Tuesday.
The smog-prone province, which surrounds the capital Beijing, has been on the frontline of China’s efforts to reverse the consequences of more than three decades of untrammelled economic growth.
The country’s biggest steel producing region has been taking action to raise emission standards, eliminate outdated production capacity and switch to cleaner forms of energy, as well as curb industrial output during pollution build-ups.
According to guidelines issued by the provincial environmental protection agency, Hebei will aim to bring average concentrations of hazardous floating particles known as PM2.5 to 55 micrograms per cubic metre by 2020, down from 65 micrograms last year.
China’s official urban air quality standard is 35 micrograms, but the World Health Organization recommends levels of no more than 10 micrograms.
Hebei province said it would also cut the proportion of “below grade V” groundwater – water so polluted that it has lost all functionality – to less than 25.7 percent by 2020. The figure stood at 36.5 percent in 2016.
China grades its water into six bands using Roman numerals, with “grade I” the cleanest, and “below grade V” unusable even for irrigation and industry.
Hebei said it would ensure that 48.7 percent is classified in grade I-III, meaning that it is fit for human consumption, up from around 46 percent in 2017.
It also promised to make around 91 percent of its contaminated farmland safe for planting by the end of the decade, and make 20.7 percent of total land off-limits to development through a new “ecological red line” scheme.
Six of China’s most polluted cities were in Hebei last year, and the province has been trying to develop new mechanisms to encourage them to clean up.
In a separate notice on Tuesday, Hebei said the city of Hengshui was awarded 1 million yuan ($145,000) for improvements made in June, while Tangshan – China’s biggest steelmaking city – was fined the same amount after its air quality ranking fell during the month.
The money was distributed as part of a new ‘punishment and reward’ scheme that gives cash prizes to those cities at the top of the province’s monthly air quality rankings, while fining those at the bottom.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Joseph Radford)