China is stepping up efforts to fight pollution. It will aim to reduce its emissions of sulphur dioxide by 6 per cent from their 2005 levels this year, the top environmental official said in remarks published on Tuesday.

According to the report of official Xinhua news agency, Zhou Shengxian, the head of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said that the government would close many small coal-fired power plants, steel mills and cement plants, to cut emissions of the acid rain-causing pollutant.

Zhou also said that the government aimed to reduce chemical oxygen demand (COD), a measure of water pollution, by 5 per cent from its 2005 level this year. Many Chinese cities suffer from choking smog, including host Beijing, the Capital of China and also the city that will hold this year's Olympic. And the air pollution effects on athletes have been one of the biggest issues facing organisers of the Games.

Authorities will step up the country's waste water treatment capacity by 12 million tons this year, with the aim of making sure all waste water in 36 major cities is treated by the end of next year, Zhou said.

Sulphur dioxide and COD are primitive indicators of overall environmental health, and do not reflect the many other chemicals that contribute to widespread pollution.

China has promised to cut the two pollution measures by 10 per cent between 2006 and 2010, but has not set out year-by-year targets.