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Tackling smog, poverty and home prices top Chinese provinces’ agenda

Curbing soaring home prices also among the targets set during local government meetings ahead of National People’s Congress this spring

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 11:07am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 2:48pm

Cutting smog, reducing poverty and keeping home prices under control are the three top priorities for China’s provincial governments as they kick off their local legislative and consultative meetings this week.

More than half of the 31 provinces and big cities holding their local lianghui, or “two sessions”, have already started their meetings since January 7.

They will address issues ranging from the economy to the environment ahead of China’s annual National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference meetings in Beijing in March.

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Plans to counter the country’s choking smog problem dominated the northern provinces’ reports.

Beijing government aims to keep PM2.5 levels below 60 micrograms per cubic metre this year. PM2.5 refers to fine particles in polluted air that are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter and are considered the most harmful to human health.

Beijing raised 2016’s first red alert for air pollution during its worst period of smog in December last year. The red alert is the highest of China’s four-tier alert system for air pollution

For about a week, the city and its surrounding regions were blanketed in severe smog. PM2.5 levels of over 200 micrograms per cubic metre were recorded in various areas around the city by different air pollution monitors.

The density of PM2.5 pollutants in the air on an average day last year was 80.6 micrograms per cubic metre, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau – far exceeding the World Health Organisation’s recommended safe level of 25 per cubic metre.

The Beijing government also vowed in its report to make obsolete 300,000 old motor vehicles and to bring more areas in the city under regulations to achieve its “zero coal emissions” target.

In neighbouring Hebei, the provincial government vowed to take PM2.5 levels down by six per cent by the end of the year.

Provincial governments across the country also laid out targets to bring people out of poverty and to bring property speculation under control.

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Yunnan and Henan provinces, among China’s poorest and most populous regions respectively, each aimed to lift one million people above the poverty line this year. People in China who earn less than 2,300 yuan (HK$2,580) a year are deemed to be living beneath the poverty line.

In Shanghai, Chongqing and Hubei and Shaanxi provinces, local governments included targets to curb property speculation. Their measures were in line with the central government’s direction to cool the property market after home prices in major cities skyrocketed in the first nine months of last year.