Li Says China Will Declare War on Pollution as Smog Spreads

Air Pollution in Beijing
A LED screen reads "China's dream, my dream" at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Feb. 26, 2014. Photographer: Feng Li/Getty Images

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said pollution is a major problem and the government will “‘declare war’’ on smog by removing high-emission cars from the road and closing coal-fired furnaces.

Pollution is ‘‘nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development,’’ Li said today in his work report at the start of this year’s National People’s Congress in Beijing. ‘‘Fostering a sound ecological environment is vital for people’s lives and the future of our nation.”

Li’s remarks, delivered in China’s equivalent of the U.S. president’s State of the Union address, reflect government recognition of public displeasure over pollution and its impact on people’s health. The weeks before the congress saw pollution stuck at unhealthy levels in much of northern China, prompting one government adviser to say smog had become “unbearable.”

“It is a prolonged battle,” Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian told reporters at the National People’s Congress meeting after Li spoke. “We need to be patient.”

A separate report released by China’s Finance Ministry said spending on energy conservation and environmental protection was 180.4 billion yuan ($29.44 billion), down 9.7 percent from last year. The ministry attributed the decline to an end to some subsidies meant to promote the use of energy-efficient products.

Li said China will reduce emissions of PM10 and PM2.5, the small particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, and impose a ceiling on energy consumption. A clean-water action plan will protect sources of drinking water, he said.

Act Vigorously

China will fight smog with the same determination it battled poverty and all society should “act more vigorously to protect the land our lives depend upon,” Li said.

Stressing pollution-control may be one reason why Li set a 2014 target of 7.5 percent growth in gross domestic product rather than a higher number, according to Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at Sydney-based AMP Capital Investors.

“The slower growth target is consistent with more action on pollution,” Oliver said in an e-mail. Growth above 8 percent “would have signaled that pollution was becoming less of a focus,” he said.

A National Development and Reform Commission report, released today at the same time as Li’s speech, said China will raise discharge fees for major pollutants.

A U.S. Embassy monitor said the level of of PM2.5 in the Chinese capital today was 13, about half the World Health Organization’s recommended limit for 24-hour exposure.

— With assistance by Kevin Hamlin, Sarah Chen, and Feifei Shen

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