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March 8, 2015

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Air pollution a major challenge

CHINA continues to face “severe” environmental problems and must make “extra efforts” to combat them, the country’s top environment official said yesterday.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, newly appointed Environmental Protection Minister Chen Jining said that while protecting the environment is a matter of global concern, “no country in the world is making such great efforts as China.”

One of the key issues, he said, is air pollution, which is of growing concern to the public.

Since the introduction of the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan in September 2013 to control PM2.5 — airborne particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns — the government has been committed to reducing the number of smoggy days.

Last year alone it removed more than 6 million old and heavy-polluting vehicles from the nation’s roads, and has promoted desulfurization and denitration at new power plants.

“We can achieve the goal of improving air quality, but the difficulty is formidable,” he said.

And despite the achievements so far: “We need to make extra efforts,” he said.

Last year, about 80 percent of more than 300 cities monitored failed to meet official standards on air quality, with smog frequently choking the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas as well as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Chen said.

The former president of Tsinghua University said the government will continue to implement the revised environmental protection law, and has called on city leaders to conduct more inspections and impose severe penalties on polluters.

Environmental protection authorities last year transferred 2,080 cases of suspected violation to public security agencies, which was more than twice the number handled in the past decade, the minister said.

The government will also enhance information transparency and guarantee the public’s right to supervise the fight against air pollution, Chen said.

“We will publish activities of the government and enterprises, leaving no space for violators to hide from the environmental protection law,” he said.

Despite the air pollution problems faced in China’s coastal areas, the environment chief pledged not to relocate polluting plants to central and western regions. While the government is committed to industrial upgrading, it will “not allow central and western regions to become the harbor for polluting enterprises,” he said.

As the world’s second-largest economy gears up for slower but more self-sustaining growth, observers have voiced concerns that low-end manufacturers and plants might simply be shifted from coastal regions to central and western regions that are desperate for development.

But Chen said the government will prevent the relocation of such industries with strict legislation and law enforcement.

A good law mustn’t be a “paper tiger,” but should be used as a “sharp weapon,” he said.

Local authorities that are found to be remiss in their supervisory work will be punished, he said.

Chen was also keen to note that while measures are being introduced to curb pollution in cities, the problem in the countryside is on the rise.

Control measures have been applied in only 10 percent of China’s rural villages, most of which are “very dirty,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the subject of garbage incinerators and PX (paraxylene) projects, Chen said that their construction within the nation’s cities will continue, but only on the condition they meet strict requirements.

All plants will be “scientifically assessed” and will be tightly regulated, he said.

While concerns about the PX projects are valid, Chen said many fears are based on ignorance. Authorities and businesses must work with local communities to improve the public’s understanding of the issue, the minister said.

On the issue of climate change, the official said: “Developed countries should honor their commitments ... under the (UN Framework) Convention (on Climate Change) to do more in support of developing countries in terms of finance, technology and capability building.”


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