Local officials in China’s northern regions have been asked to visit households before year’s end to ensure they have sufficient heat, according to a circular from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.
The circular, released on Dec 13, also says that coal consumption should not be banned where there is no natural gas or where supplies are short.
Local authorities should encourage heating companies to solve the problem of unstable supplies of gas, the circular said.
Governments in northern China are shifting from coal to natural gas as a heat source in order to reduce pollution, but the change has resulted in delayed heat availability in some areas because of unfinished projects or gas shortages.
Heating problems reported by residents should be listed so that local authorities can take corrective action, it said.
Heating companies that contravene laws and regulations will be severely punished, it added.
Coal has long been burned for heat in northern China, a practice blamed for the smog that lingers through the winter.
An action plan released by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in August set goals to replace coal with clean energy by the end of October in 3 million households in 28 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and in Shanxi, Shandong and Henan provinces.
In an urgent circular released on Dec 7, the top environmental authority said areas that have not yet completed projects to replace coal with gas or electric heat may now use coal or any other available measures as a stopgap measure.
After a media report on Dec 5 that the delayed heat in Hebei province had resulted in symptoms of frostbite in some students, the Ministry of Education demanded “immediate” action to ensure that classrooms were warm enough the next day.