Pedestrians cross a road on a polluted day in Beijing on November 27, 2015. China is the world's largest polluter and will be a key player at next week's climate change talks in Paris in the face of disputes over whether developed or developing countries should bear more of the burden for reducing emissions. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER / AFP / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

China has achieved pollution reduction targets set five years ago with six months to spare, its environment minister said on Sunday as international leaders gather in Paris to negotiate reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases that cause dangerous global warming.

However, Chen Jining, environment minister, cautioned that China needed a further 30-50 per cent cut in pollutants in order to achieve a “substantial” improvement in its damaged air, soil and water, in a report carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Beginning in 2010, China pledged to cut emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and ammonia nitrogen as well as chemical oxygen demand (COD), a measure of organic pollutants in water.

The goals were incorporated in its 12th five-year plan, which concludes this year, and were primarily tackled by installing emissions-control equipment on power plants, steel mills and other major industrial facilities.

During those five years, choking air pollution has become a top source of discontent among China’s increasingly prosperous urban middle classes.

This month the northeastern city of Shenyang was blacked out by thick brown smog as the city’s heating boilers revved up at the same time, creating the worst recorded pollution in the country in two years.

On Sunday, Beijing raised its air pollution alert to “orange” for the first time in 13 months as the concentration of tiny particulates known as PM2.5 hit 300 on a scale in which 50 is considered dangerous to health.

Chart - China's energy demand

Beijing has been enveloped by smog for most of November, following an unusually clear period that some attributed to a slowing economy.

Mr Chen said 20m tonnes of major pollutants are still discharged every year in China, requiring further cuts.

The next five-year plan, which is being drafted amid heavy lobbying from state-owned companies hit by slowing economic growth, could also include targets for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or organic chemicals that easily dissipate in the air, Xinhua said.

China estimates that its carbon emissions will peak around 2030, as economic growth slows and the economy matures enough to shift away from heavy, pollution-intensive industry. The calculation of the peak has been hailed as its primary commitment to the climate change talks in Paris next week.

Slowing economic growth has led some in China to argue that its peak could come sooner, meaning coal-fired power plants included in the upcoming five-year plan do not need to be built.

Others worry that policies to reduce the proportion of coal in the national energy mix lead to an unhealthy support for environmentally destructive dams and a too-quick rollout of nuclear power.

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