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November 6, 2013

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China says air pollution affecting physical, mental health of citizens

China’s top negotiator at international climate talks said yesterday that air pollution in the country is harming its citizens.

“China indeed is suffering from severe air pollution,” said Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning body.

Smoggy conditions have “now become the norm which has severely affected the mental and physical health of the Chinese people,” he added.

But he voiced hope for improvement in the next decade.

Xie, speaking to reporters before global climate talks in Poland next week, attributed China’s air problems to the country’s “obsolete development model,” its “unreasonable industrial and energy structure” and discharge of pollutants by some companies “in a very extensive way.”

The root cause, he added, is the “use of fossil fuels.”

The government vowed in September to reduce levels of atmospheric pollutants in Beijing and other major cities by as much as 25 percent by 2017 to try to improve the air quality.

The government said pollution levels would be cut by slowing the growth of coal consumption so that its share of China’s energy sources would fell to 65 percent by 2017.

China is the world’s biggest coal consumer and is forecast to account for more than half of global demand next year.

Xie said that “in about five to 10 years we will see improvements in our air quality.”

Chinese cities have been hit by intense air pollution in recent years, much of it caused by emissions from coal-burning power stations. Levels of tiny particles known as PM2.5 have reached as high as 40 times World Health Organization limits this year.

Pollution, which tends to worsen as winter approaches, is also blamed on rapid urbanization, dramatic economic development and climatic factors.

The northeastern city of Harbin was shrouded in thick smog for several days late last month, with schools and airport shut and poor visibility forcing some ground transport to a halt.

Xie said China remains a developing country, adding that it has only recently reached a per capita GDP of US$6,000 and still has about 90 million people living below the poverty line.

The upcoming ministerial-level Warsaw Climate Change Conference comes ahead of a 2015 deadline for signing a United Nations deal that would enter force in 2020 and for the first time bind all the world’s nations to measurable targets for curbing the greenhouse gas emissions widely blamed for global warming.

“The Chinese delegation is open to the new agreement and we do hope the new agreement can also help the international community to tackle climate change,” Xie said.

But he cited statistics to show that from the Industrial Revolution to 2010 emissions from developed countries accounted for 70 percent of the global total.

Rich countries should fulfil their financial pledges — such as providing US$30 billion by 2013 and US$100 billion a year by 2020 — to help the developing world address climate change, he said.

“We know that developed countries now indeed face some financial difficulties, but despite that they still need to make good on the promises they have made and deliver their obligations,” he said. “That is the foundation for building political mutual trust between us.”

Violation tip-offs up 20%

China’s environmental watchdog said yesterday that it dealt with 179 tip-offs on environmental pollution in July, a 20 percent jump from June.

Of the processed tip-offs, 155 were about environmental illegalities, which accounted for 87 percent of the reports, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The environmental watchdog in Hebei Province received 22 tip-offs, making it the province with the highest number of complaints. It was followed by the provinces of Shandong, Jiangsu and Guangdong, the ministry said in a statement.

All the complaints have been transferred to local environmental watchdogs for further investigation, the statement added.

Some 100 of the 179 tip-offs in July were related to air pollution, 31 were about water pollution and 28 were about noise pollution. The others concerned solid waste and construction projects that had not been properly approved.

Beijing cuts car sales quota

Beijing, long plagued by thick smog and heavy traffic, will slash the capital city’s new car sales quotas by almost 40 percent next year as it looks to curb vehicle emissions and hazardous levels of pollution, the city government website said.

The change in policy gives greater support for new, cleaner cars.

Over the next four years, Beijing will issue 150,000 new license plates annually, down from 240,000 each year now, according to the city government’s website. Car buyers must put on plates before they are allowed to drive on the roads.

That means Beijing’s new passenger vehicles sales during the 2014-2017 period will be capped at 600,000 units, few than the city’s vehicle sales in 2010 alone.

In addition, the government will allot a higher proportion of license plates every year to buyers of new-energy vehicles that need lower amounts of gasoline or use alternative energy.

8-year-old battling cancer

An eight-year-old girl has become China’s youngest lung cancer patient with doctors blaming it on pollution.

Feng Dongjie, a doctor at Jiangsu Cancer Hospital in Nanjing, said the girl, who lives near a major road, had been exposed to harmful particles for a long time.

Lung cancer cases among children are extremely rare, with the average age for diagnosis at about 70, according to the American Cancer Society. But the incidence of the disease has skyrocketed in China.

Shanghai’s Zhongshan Hospital has treated a 14-year-old lung cancer patient.

“The child has no family history of the disease ... It may be linked with gene mutation or air pollution,” Bai Chunxue, a Zhongshan Hospital doctor, told the Shanghai Evening Post.

Lung cancer deaths in China have multiplied more than four times over the past 30 years, the health ministry said. Cancer is now the leading cause of death in Beijing.




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