Vice-premier admits progress is slow as Beijing redoubles environment efforts Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday said China was confident of meeting its goal of reducing major pollution emissions by 10 per cent in the next five years, despite reports that progress is slower than expected. Addressing a group of environmental consultants to the central government, Mr Wen said China would put sustainable growth and environmental protection on top of its agenda. 'It is a very tough task, but we are determined and confident of fulfilling it,' Mr Wen was quoted by Xinhua as saying. Vice-premier Zeng Peiyan , admitted in a separate meeting with the consultants that the problem was improving slower than the government estimated earlier this year. He feared China would have difficulties meeting this year's pollution reduction targets. Mr Zeng said that while the ratio of resource consumption to economic growth grew in the first half of the year, the trend had been reversed in the third quarter. But total pollution emissions are still rising despite the government measures. Emissions of sulfur dioxide - a major source of acid rain - rose 4.2 per cent from January to June. 'Environmental problems and resource consumption have greatly hindered our economic and social development. We must come up with effective measures to solve these problems,' Mr Zeng said. The vice-premier said the leadership had formulated a strategy and would focus on five key areas to reduce gas emissions and boost energy efficiency. By 2010, the level of resource consumption required for economic growth must be cut by 20 per cent from that of last year, he said. Sulfur dioxide emissions need to be cut by 10 per cent and about 20 per cent of Chinese soil should be covered by forest - up from the existing 18.2 per cent. The total amount of farmland will be maintained at 1.2 million square kilometres. To achieve these goals, the central government would alter the structure of the economy and focus on improving energy efficiency instead of merely pursuing high growth. Traditional high energy consumption sectors such as steel, coal, electricity, chemical products and construction would be upgraded to make better use of resources. Research institutes would also accelerate the development and use of clean and renewable energy such as solar and wind power. The authorities would study how to rehabilitate contaminated agricultural land and teach farmers to use chemical fertilisers scientifically. Mr Zeng said the mainland would step up its efforts to conserve the environment. 'To ensure that these goals are met, we will strengthen the accountability system and regularly release information on pollution and energy consumption in major sectors and regions,' he said. Mr Zeng said the targets would be crucial criteria in assessing local officials' performance.