China needs to tighten its emission standards, Fu Chengyu, chairman of Sinopec, the China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation, told the National Business Daily, if it is to reduce the smog that blankets many cities.

His call follows a report by the Ministry of Environmental Protection that revealed that smog covers 1.43m square km of China’s skies.

The problem is that Chinese petrol contains 15 times the amount of sulphur found in European countries. But the Sinopec chairman suggested that oil refining companies should not be held directly responsible. Tighter emissions standards would be a better way to reduce the smog, he said. The cost to refineries of reducing the sulphur content is estimated by analysts at around US$7.8bn.

Sinopec said that the problem is that although the recent Fifth National Emission Standards are on a par with Europe with sulphur content at 10 ppm, they are not implemented throughout the country. Most of China still uses the Third National Emission Standards, which restrict the amount of sulphur in fuel to 150 ppm.

The Fifth National Standard has been officially implemented in Beijing with sales and registration of automobiles that don't meet the standards to be completely halted by March.

Some analysts have suggested that curbs on vehicle use in China could increase due to rising concern over the health impact of poor air quality in big cities.