BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing's battle against air pollution will take time and be very tough to win despite recent improvements, the acting mayor of China's capital said on Wednesday.
The city has been fighting to clean its notoriously smoggy air through steps such as pushing households and factories to switch away from coal to cleaner fuels like natural gas.
"Further improvement in air quality (will be) extremely difficult," acting mayor of Beijing, Chen Jining, said in a statement released during the city's congress meeting.
The central government's intense focus on air quality means many local officials' careers are linked to the success of efforts to tackle smog, making it unusual to speak candidly about the challenges of meeting tough targets.
Beijing has chalked up a short-term success by cutting the annual average level of breathable particulate matter (PM2.5) to 58 micrograms per cubic meter in 2017, beating a target set by the State Council in 2012.
However, the city is still some way from reaching its official PM2.5 standard of 35 micrograms and the recommended level of no more than 10 micrograms set by the World Health Organization.
Beijing has converted homes and factories from coal heating to clean energy, reducing the city's annual coal consumption by as much as 74 percent in five years to under 6 million tonnes in 2017, Chen said at a meeting of the local legislature.
The capital city has also closed or upgraded 11,000 polluting companies and taken more than 2 million obsolete automobiles off the road.
Authorities are now turning their attention to curbing pollution from other toxic substances like nitrogen oxide.
"In the next stage, Beijing will issue a new air pollution prevention plan and step up environmental inspections," he said.
"And we will continue to push the conversion to clean energy from coal in rural areas and phase out vehicles exceeding exhaust emissions standards."
(Reporting by Muyu Xu and Josephine Mason; editing by Richard Pullin)