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China's Beijing, Hebei cut smog emissions 12% in 2018

[SHANGHAI] China's capital of Beijing, and its surrounding industrial province of Hebei, cut smog emissions by at least 12 per cent in 2018 after a long crackdown on polluters and campaigns to reduce household coal use, environmental authorities said.

Beijing and Hebei have been on the frontline of a war on pollution launched in 2014 to soothe public disquiet about the state of China's skies, rivers and soil following more than three decades of untrammelled economic growth.

But environmentalists have expressed concern the country's slowing economy would force local authorities to ease up on polluters this year, and pollution readings in major industrial cities rose 14 per cent in November.

Beijing's emissions of small, hazardous breathable particles known as PM2.5 fell 12 per cent to 51 micrograms per cubic metre over the whole of 2018, the local government said on its website on Friday.

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Average emissions are still significantly higher than China's official air quality standard of 35 micrograms. Beijing managed to meet the target in January, August and September, the local government said.

It said 656 polluting enterprises were forced to relocate last year, with firms and individuals fined a total of 230 million yuan (S$45.50 million) for violations, up 22.5 per cent from last year.

The official China Daily said 30 per cent of the improvement resulted from "favourable meteorological conditions". With about a third of Beijing's PM2.5 emissions originated by neighbouring regions, improvement in Hebei also helped, it added.

Hebei, China's biggest steel producing region, saw PM2.5 emissions fall by 12.5 per cent to an average of 56 micrograms in 2018, preliminary figures from the province's environment bureau showed last week.

The cut was partly a result of Hebei's efforts to cut coal consumption, as about 1.8 million households replaced coal with natural gas and electricity for heating this winter, the paper said.

Upto 79 cities across China's north and east have faced special pollution curbs this winter.