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China declares 'war' on smog and pollution

By Zhang Yang in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2014-03-06 12:17

As the smog situation grows more severe in China, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang "declared war" on pollution on Wednesday and the country's top economic planning agency also set hard targets for reducing pollution this year.

Speaking at the opening of China's National People's Congress (NPC), Li pledged to fight pollution with the same determination the country has been battling poverty and described smog as "nature's red-light warning against inefficient and blind development".

Li said the government will strengthen its efforts by reducing emissions of PM10 and PM2.5, or particulate matter in the air smaller than 10 and 2.5 micrometers, which is believed to be most hazardous to health and a key factor in causing smog.

About 50,000 small coal-fired furnaces will be shut down this year. Meanwhile, cleaning technologies, including desulphurization, denitrification and dust removal, will be introduced at coal-burning power plants, according to Li.

In addition, 6 million old high-emission vehicles will be removed from roads, and cleaner diesel fuel will be provided nationwide this year.

The central government is also going to implement a clean water action plan, strengthen the protection of drinking water sources, prevent and control water pollution in key river basins and carry out land restoration.

The nation's top planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), also set hard targets to fight pollution and reduce energy use in a report presented to the NPC on Wednesday.

"Energy consumption per unit of GDP will drop more than 3.9 percent; carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP will fall 4 percent; emissions of sulfur dioxide and ammoniacal nitrogen will drop 2 percent," the report said.

KongBo, ConocoPhillips Petroleum Professor of Chinese and Asian Studies at the University of Oklahoma, thinks that although it is laudable for Beijing to set hard targets, it takes much more to realize the numbers.

"China's pollution is three decades or so in the making, so it will take a while for the problem to be stabilized, mitigated and reduced," said Kong, pointing out that a key thing to watch is whether the percentage of GDP invested in environmental protection moves closer to 2 percent or more, a number required for pollution to be "reined in".

Kong also thinks that it is crucial for the central government to improve the incentive structure in order to make sure economic growth targets at the local level are not hit at the expense of the environment.

"Implementation at the local level will always be problematic unless the central government reconfigures the incentive system vis-a-vis political career promotion and bureaucratic performance evaluations," he said.

"Finally, monitoring implementation of these targets in China will be increasingly difficult without empowering the public and media and giving them a greater role in holding polluters accountable," he added.

The NDRC report also says that it will raise fees for the discharge of major pollutants and the prices of water supplied to some water conservancy projects.

In addition, the agency will introduce tiered pricing models for resources and resource users will be charged based on the amount they consume. Residential users will be charged differently in their natural gas and water consumption while industrial users, such as those in cement and electrolytic aluminum sectors, will be charged in tiered prices for electricity.

Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said that it is encouraging to see that China will adopt tired pricing for electricity to industries, though it appeared to her that the strategy was discussed more in terms of water and gas.

"China needs to reboot its energy sector if there is to be substantial progress on clearing the skies, and when we say energy, this of course means coal," she said.

"I would be interested to see if there is going to be some progress made on creating better incentives for renewable energy to be given more priority in getting on the grid," said Turner.

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