China will use ‘iron fist’ against pollution, Premier Li Keqiang vows

Concrete steps include cracking down on polluters and negligent officials

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 1:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 7:14pm

The central government has established an ecological compensation mechanism in its revised work report as Premier Li Keqiang pledged an “iron fist” against polluters and negligent officials in the war on environmental degradation.

A cross-region payment system for ecological services will bring economic benefits to areas dedicated to environmental protection. The change of wording from “exploring” to “pushing forward” such a system shows that the State Council will be more active in adopting market-based solutions to tackling the nation’s environmental crisis, Xinhua reported.

Li admitted at a press conference yesterday that persistent smog in many cities had taken a toll on people’s welfare.

“The first thing many people do first thing in the morning is check the readings for PM2.5 pollution,” Li said.

He added that levels of PM 2.5 pollutants – tiny particles smaller than 2.5 microns wide that are regarded as most dangerous to human health – were monitored in 161 of the mainland’s 660 cities and territories, the most extensive scale of monitoring in any developing country.

“[The readings] remind the public to take necessary protective measures against pollution,” Li said. “It also puts pressure on governments.”

Li said the country aimed to cut coal use by 22 million tonnes this year to cut energy intensity – a measure of the economy’s energy efficiency – by 3.9 per cent.

He also promised that “grave penalties” awaited polluters including coal-fired power plants, heavy industries and high-emission vehicles, as well as officials who turned a blind eye to violations but did not specify sanctions.

At the start of the parliamentary sessions, when he delivered the government’s work report, Li described pollution as “nature’s red-light warning” against “inefficient and blind development” and vowed to stamp out pollution “with the same determination as battling poverty”.

However, economists and analysts have said reconciling its pollution drive with its economic growth target would be tricky. Li acknowledged yesterday that the government needed to find a fine balance for maintaining growth, creating jobs and protecting the environment.