Li Keqiang

Li Keqiang warns fighting pollution will 'take time' as choking smog continues grip

Vice-premier urges action on 'long-term issue' as thick smog continues to blanket mainland cities

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 12:11pm

Vice-Premier Li Keqiang said it would take time for the government to tackle air pollution, as smog levels remained at "unhealthy" levels yesterday.

Li, the first high-ranking official to comment on air pollution since a large area of the mainland was blanketed in thick smog over the weekend, also called for a change in industrial production and consumption patterns.

"Pollution is not a problem that emerged only a few days ago - it's a long-term issue, and fixing it will take a long time. But we need to do something about it," Li said. He added that the government regularly releases data on health-threatening PM2.5 particles, but more law enforcement measures were needed.

Air pollution fell yesterday from the "hazardous" and "beyond index" levels of previous days. The PM2.5 count in most urban areas of Beijing fell to around 200 micrograms per cubic metre due to light snowfall and because some industrial production was suspended, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre.

In Beijing, levels of PM2.5 - fine particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter - as high as 886 were recorded on Saturday, according to US embassy monitors.

The pollution index was slower to fall yesterday in other parts of the country, such as Jinan , about 440 kilometres south of Beijing in Shandong , where the level stayed above 400.

The effects of the pollution, which authorities have called the worst in years, appear to be wide-ranging. Xinhua reported yesterday that a factory fire in Anji county, Zhejiang province, went unnoticed for more than three hours because of the smog.

There were also reports of several serious accidents, including a 20-car pile-up on an expressway linking Hangzhou in Zhejiang to Pudong in Shanghai, in which two people died.

A report released on Monday by Tsinghua University and the Asian Development Bank said fewer than five out of 500 mainland cities have PM 2.5 counts that meet the World Health Organisation's standard of a mean level of 25 mcg per cubic metre per 24 hours.

It said economic losses from pollution were equal to 1.2 per cent of the nation's GDP.

Ma Jun , director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, said severe air pollution would continue unless authorities identify pollution sources and dealt with them.

Beijing environmental authorities said it was not necessary to buy air purifiers, but the Ministry of Environmental Protection was revealed to have bought an air purifier last week, triggering a backlash from internet users.