BEIJING, July 25 (UPI) -- The Chinese government has announced a $277 billion initiative to tackle air pollution.
The Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan aims to reduce emissions by 25 percent from 2012 levels by 2017 and specifically targets North China, especially Beijing and the provinces of Tianjin and Hebei, China Daily reported Wednesday.
"The Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province area is the most stringently targeted because airborne pollution is most serious in this area," the state-run newspaper quoted Wang Jinnan, vice president of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning as saying during the Eco-Forum Global Annual Conference Saturday in Guiyang, Guizhou province. Wang participated in drafting the new pollution plan.
"The central government is determined to curb emissions in energy-consuming and highly polluting industries," state-run news agency Xinhua quoted Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian as saying at the conference.
Zhao Hualin, head of the pollution prevention and control department of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said the air pollution plan is just one of three plans that will be released in the next five years, China Daily reported. Other areas to be addressed include water pollution control and improvements to the rural environment.
Beijing and other northern Chinese cities have experienced severe levels of pollution particularly since January, when Beijing's air quality index regularly exceeded 500, the scale's maximum reading.
"The thick smog and haze that covered large areas of the country in January has focused public attention on this issue," Zhao said.
A study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said air pollution causes people in northern China to live an average of 5.5 years less than their southern counterparts.
An April report in The New York Times cited a study led by Washington University and the World Health Organization determining outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, nearly 40 percent of the global total.
Last December, just a month before the onset of exceptional levels of smog in Beijing, the government announced an air pollution reduction plan for 13 major areas covering 117 cities aimed at cutting the level of particulates in the air at least 5 percent by 2015. That initiative was announced at the U.N. climate change talks in Doha.
The World Health Organization recommends particulate levels be kept to less than 25 micrograms per cubic meter. In January, Beijing air quality levels reached nearly 900 micrograms.
However, Chai Fahe, vice president of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences told China Daily government leaders concluded after the plan had been released in December, a tougher approach against air pollution was needed, China Daily reported.