BEIJING - Premier Wen Jiabao pledged Friday to
help clean China's air and water and combat global warming by phasing out tax
breaks and discounts on land and electricity for highly polluting industries.
"More work on energy conservation and emissions reduction is urgently
required to deal with global climate change," Wen said. "Our country is a major
coal producer and consumer, and reducing polluting emissions is a responsibility
we should bear."
China's 3-decade-old boom has left some of its waterways and coastlines
polluted by industrial and farm chemicals and domestic sewage. In 2000, China
accounted for 15 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, second only to the
United States' 21 percent.
Wen said the reductions would be difficult to achieve but the government
would begin with its six dirtiest and largest energy-consuming industries,
including electricity, steel, non-ferrous metals, construction, petroleum and
"We must clearly recognize that the situation the nation faces regarding
energy conservation and emissions reduction is still quite grim," Wen said at a
meeting of other top government leaders, in a speech posted on the government
Wen called for energy savings of 50 million tons of coal equivalent in the
power industry and 20 million tons of coal equivalent in 1,000 state-owned major
industrial enterprises this year.
This was part of an overall effort to reduce energy consumption per unit of
gross national product by 20 percent during the 2006-2010 period and to cut
emissions of key water and air pollutants by 10 percent over the same period.
He also noted that China has failed to meet earlier goals to reduce emissions
and conserve energy.
"This year is crucial. If we can meet our energy savings and pollution
reduction targets for this year it will form a good base as we go forward," Wen
"If we cannot meet this year's target, this will greatly increase the
pressure on our work in the following three years."
In his speech, Wen took aim at local governments that routinely offer free or
cut-rate real estate and utilities to developers looking to set up job-creating
businesses, such as steel mills or chemical plants. The premier said the
government would "clean up and rectify preferential policies that give land and
electricity discounts or tax breaks to energy-intensive or highly polluting
He didn't lay out further details of the plan or say when it would be
Despite such central government mandates, Beijing often has difficulty
ensuring that conservation initiatives are enforced at the local level, where
many officials reap the rewards of China's rapid industrialization at the
expense of the environment.
"The question is how are they actually going to implement it?" asked
Elizabeth Economy, an Asia specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations in New
York. "What exactly will they put in place to make it more difficult for local
bank officials to approve those local steel plants, small coal mines and
Wen also said China should work harder to create a system whereby polluters
pay for environmental damage they cause, and enterprises investing in clean
energy are rewarded. He also called for continued price reforms on natural gas,
heating fuel and water to encourage energy conservation, without giving a
timeframe for price increases.
China is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases, but
as a developing nation it is exempt from its mandatory