5 August 2014 — Beijing will ban coal sales and use in its six main districts and other regions by the end of 2020 in order to cut air pollution, Chinese media outlet Xinhua has reported.

According to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, the districts of Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai and Shijingshan will stop using coal and its related products by the end of 2020, and close coal-fired power plants and other coal facilities. Fuel oil, petroleum coke, combustible waste and some biomass fuels will also be prohibited.

The bureau said renewables and natural gas would replace coal for residential heating, cooking and other activities.

Xinhua reported the move was part of Beijing’s plans to improve air quality.

Coal burning accounts for close to 25 per cent of the cities particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns, which has been blamed for the city’s notorious smog.

Coal use accounted for 25 per cent of Beijing’s energy consumption in 2012, though the figure is now expected to shrink to less than 10 per cent by 2017.

Other areas are expected to gradually follow suit, the paper said.

Australia looks to improve air pollution standards

While nowhere near as bad as air pollution in China, a new report from the National Environment Protection Council has found that air pollution in Sydney is cutting lifespans by up to 72 days and causing an estimated 520 deaths a year, and recommends improvements to national standards.

In the impact statement the NEPC flagged its intention to vary the ambient air quality standards for particulate matter to reflect the latest scientific understanding on health risks from particle pollution.

The move was welcomed by the NSW Environment Protection Authority, with chair and chief executive Barry Buffier saying the NSW EPA had been advocating for changes to the national air quality standards for particles, particularly moving from an advisory standard for PM2.5 to become a compliance standard.

“While NSW’s air quality is good by world standards and annual average concentrations of ambient pollutants are generally better than current air quality standards, some air pollutants such as particulate matter continue to cause health concerns,” Mr Buffier said.

“Over the past few decades ambient concentrations of most pollutants have decreased.

“However, future population growth, economic activity and emissions may lead to subsequent increases in population exposure and the incidence of adverse health outcomes.

“Reducing pollution below current levels will result in substantial health benefits.”

The Impact Statement and further information including consultation processes are available from the NEPC website with submissions open until 10 October 2014.