Wen pledges iron fist as time is running out on pollution-control targets
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing
Premier Wen Jiabao has issued a grim warning over the lack of progress in hitting Beijing's established target in its anti-pollution campaign, which has been billed as the country's key battlefield in fighting climate change.
At a national meeting on cutting energy waste and pollution, Wen vowed his government would take all the necessary measures in the next eight months to meet the ambitious five-year pollution-control targets by the end of this year.
He said despite limited progress in the past four years, cutting energy intensity by 20 per cent by 2010 - a goal Wen promised in 2006 - remained an arduous task, Xinhua reported.
'Especially in the first quarter of the year, six main energy-intensive industrial sectors - namely, power, iron and steel, nonferrous metals, building materials, chemicals, and petrochemical industries - have all seen a surge,' he said.
According to the report, energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product increased by 3.2 per cent in the first three months of the year, which has further dampened the hope of meeting the target.
But Wen's rather rare revelation of the bleak reality in pollution control came as little surprise to mainland experts and environmentalists.
Zou Ji, a climate expert at the US-based World Resources Institute, said it was an open secret that China had fallen far short of its anti-pollution targets, and the gap was still widening. 'It is getting more and more difficult to meet the targets due to the resurgence of heavy polluting industries in the past year or so. The risk of missing those targets is growing,' he said.
But Wen still put on a brave face, saying the pollution-control targets must be met despite the challenges.
'[They are] our solemn pledges to the people ... and part of our efforts to tackle global warming. Whatever the difficulties, our pledges cannot be altered, our determination cannot be compromised, and our work cannot be undermined,' he said.
He vowed to clamp down on outdated plants with an iron fist and significantly boost investment to upgrade infrastructure that reduces emissions.
Officials who fail to deliver on the anti-pollution targets would be disciplined or even sacked, Wen said.
Wen repeated his pledges during the national legislative sessions in March that spending on cutting energy waste would rise to 83.3 billion yuan (HK$94.7 billion) this year from nearly 57 billion yuan last year.
He also reiterated many aggressive targets rolled out earlier this year, including a goal of closing coal-fired power plants with a capacity to generate 10GW of electricity this year.
In recent months, Beijing has repeatedly issued edicts to shut down outdated and inefficient plants in a dozen sectors in a bid to rein in the surge of energy-intensive sectors as a result of Beijing's four trillion yuan stimulus package.
However, experts have cast doubt over the effectiveness of the measures, which they say would hardly make a big difference within such a limited timeframe. Achieving the goals looked increasingly unlikely, they added.
Like many experts, Zou expressed concerns over the government's overemphasis on administrative measures in bringing unruly industries under control.
'Threats of sacking officials for their environmental failures sound good, but we are not sure if such promises can be kept,' he said. 'Besides, officials should not be held responsible for the failure of polluting factories.'
The government's overriding emphasis on development and economic recovery and its inadequate spending in pollution control have contributed to the deterioration of the country's environment, Zou said.