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China will take effective steps to strengthen environmental protection－especially in controlling air pollution－in 2017 to markedly reduce major airborne pollutants and "make our skies blue again", Premier Li Keqiang said on Sunday.
Li delivered the Government Work Report to lawmakers in the morning at the opening of the annual plenary session of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature.
"Faster progress in the work of improving the environment, particularly air quality, is what people are desperately hoping for, and it's critical to sustainable development," he said.
The government is calling for both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions to be cut by 3 percent year-on-year, accompanied by a sharp reduction in the density of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, in key areas. The particles, which are less than 2.5 microns in diameter, are especially harmful to human health.
In order to achieve air quality improvements, the government will work faster to address the primary cause－coal burning. More than 3 million households will shift to electricity or natural gas as a replacement for coal in 2017, and all small coal-fired furnaces in cities will be shut down.
In addition, China will upgrade its coal-fired power plants to achieve ultralow emissions, Li said, while giving priority to the integration of renewable energy sources into the electrical grid.
Additional measures will include tighter controls on the emissions of other polluting industries, as well. Such industries will be monitored continuously, according to the report.
Huang Shouhong, director of the State Council Research Office, who helped draft the report, said on Sunday: "The detailed efforts send a signal that the government intends to take harsher measures to curb air pollution."
It is dtermined to reduce air pollution through measures aimed at the major pollution sources, Huang said, adding that decisions have been made based on scientific research and stricter monitoring.
These efforts "will help us make greater progress this year", he said.
Zhang Qingwei, governor of Hebei province, which has suffered from severe air pollution over the years, voiced strong support for the moves on Sunday.
In 2017, iron and steel production capacity in Hebei will be cut by another 30 million metric tons, accounting for more than 60 percent of the country's total, Zhang said, adding that provincial and city governments will move strongly to reach the goals.
The renewed push has received plaudits from experts.
Xue Tao, deputy head of the Institute of E20, which is partnering with Peking University's Environmental Sciences and Engineering College in a joint research platform that includes businesses in the environmental sector, said tighter reins on industrial emissions－even the shutdown of small polluting companies－are necessary.
"High-level inspections like those headed by the environmental minister have worked, but there should be a mechanism to make the inspections regular and to conduct them over the long term," he said.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, voiced his support for stricter monitoring of companies, saying this would help environmental authorities get a clear picture of emissions, which in turn will help to better regulate behavior.
He added that making it easier for the public to see the monitoring data could help the authorities in supervising polluters.