Pollution-cutting target in jeopardy, warns watchdog

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2007, 12:00am

The mainland continues to face a grim, uphill battle against environment deterioration despite improvements this year, according to a high-ranking official at the top environmental watchdog.

Zhang Lijun , a deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa), warned the government was likely to fail to meet its emissions control target for the current five-year plan (2006-10) unless robust growth in heavily polluting industries was curbed.

'We haven't spotted any substantial indicators of a slowdown in the expansion of energy intensive sectors,' Mr Zhang told an environmental forum in Beijing yesterday. 'Investment keeps pouring in.'

According to Sepa statistics, the average growth of six major energy-consuming industries - petrochemical, metal manufacturing, steel, chemical engineering, building material and power generation - reached 20.1 per cent for the first six months of the year, marking a 3.6 per cent year-on-year increase.

'We have to speed up our co-ordination with other government departments to make it harder for corporate speculators to build up a position in these sectors, to curb future growth and to encourage technological breakthroughs to cut back existing pollution,' Mr Zhang said. 'Otherwise, our overall plan [of emission reduction] will be in jeopardy.'

Mainland authorities are aiming for a 10 per cent cut in emissions of various pollutants by 2010 from the 2006 level, but efforts fell short of annualised targets last year. Some good news may be on the horizon, however, as Sepa reported last week a 1.8 per cent drop in sulfur dioxide emissions, a prominent airborne industrial pollutant, over the first three quarters of the year as well as a 0.28 per cent slip in chemical oxygen demand, a measure of water pollution over the same period. It marked the first time both benchmarks had shown an improvement. Officials attributed the slight change to a strong approach towards polluters.

'We have closed down poorly regulated minor coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of 9.03 million kilowatt-hours, halted the output of 8.73 million tonnes of steel from unscrupulous steelmakers and forced the closure of more than 500 paper mills,' Mr Zhang said. 'We have also suspended banks from lending to heavy polluters and revoked the export licences of quite a few unethical companies. I think such policing proves effective.'

But after the sticks, Mr Zhang said it was time to offer carrots to get polluters to change.

'There have been no systematic incentives introduced so far into the corporate sector to change behavioural patterns. The priority for our next phase of work is to streamline such a mechanism that would benefit those who commit themselves to the energy-saving and emissions-reduction campaign.'