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China to spend $277 billion on improving air quality

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

China's government plans to spend 1,700 billion yuan ($277 billion) to tackle air pollution over the next five years, state media reported Thursday, after smog became a major source of social discontent.

The money will be spent on reducing concentrations of damaging particles known as PM2.5 in the air, the state-run China Daily newspaper cited an official as saying.

Across China, levels of PM2.5 -- tiny particles that are generated by burning coal and can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing damage -- regularly exceed limits suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Officials aim to reduce PM2.5 emissions in key cities including Beijing by around 25 percent compared to 2012 levels by 2017, the report said.

The plan would mean PM2.5 concentrations in Beijing will reach around 60 micrograms per cubic meter by 2017, the report said -- still several times above the WHO's limit.

The report did not provide details of how the targets would be met. China's environmental ministry was not immediately available to comment.

An especially heavy wave of pollution earlier this year stoked popular discontent, prompting China's government to announce measures to improve air quality -- including rating officials' performance on air quality ratings in their regions.

A decades-old Chinese policy of giving out free coal for winter heating in the north of the country has reduced life expectancy there by more than five years, a study released earlier this month by a US scientific journal said.

China is mostly reliant on coal for power, and its consumption of fossil fuels grew rapidly in recent decades as the country's economy expanded to become the world's second largest.

China's coal consumption is expected to continue to grow -- although Beijing has set a target of raising non-fossil energy use to 15 percent of its total consumption by 2020, up from 10 percent in 2010.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130725/china-spend-277-billion-improving-air-quality