World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, beginning a four-day visit to China on Sunday, told the China Daily newspaper "it's encouraging" that the Chinese government "has a strong commitment to tackling the pollution problem."
Kim noted that China is the "largest contributor" to global greenhouse gas emissions by volume, accounting for almost 30 percent of global emissions.
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.
Under the plan, unveiled Thursday by the State Council, or China's cabinet, China aims to cut total coal consumption to below 65 percent of its total primary energy use by 2017. That compares with around 67 percent last year.
China, the world's biggest consumer of coal, has accounted for 82 percent of the increase in global coal consumption since 2011, says the US Energy Information Administration.
China's new plan also aims to boost the country's supply of natural gas, coal-based substitute natural gas and coalbed methane.
But some environmentalists criticized the plan for not setting specific limits on coal burning.
"Instead of setting a goal to reduce coal burning for each province, the action plan gives each province the power to set goals for themselves, which leads to the goals being very conservative," Huang Wei, who works on climate and energy advocacy at Greenpeace East Asia, was quoted as saying in the Times report.
A target for closing outdated production capacity in key industrial sectors, originally set for 2015, will be achieved by 2014, the plan says. More severe penalties will be also imposed for violations of environmental, energy conservation and safety requirements.
"The plan successfully identifies the root cause of air pollution in China: China's industrial structure," Ma Jun, a prominent environmental advocate, was quoted as saying by the Times.
"Industrialization determines the structure of energy consumption. If China does not upgrade its coal-dependent industries, coal consumption can never be curbed." he said. "The key to preventing air pollution is to curb coal burning — China burns half of all the coal consumed in the world."
The plan aims to reduce PM 2.5 – dangerous airborne particles measuring 2.5 microns in diameter – by about 25 percent from 2012 levels in Beijing and surrounding provincial areas by 2017.
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.
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