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China Pledges Harsher Punishment in Fight Against Smog

Canton Tower in Guangzhou
Smog surrounds the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China, on Nov. 20, 2013. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

China will strengthen environmental-protection laws this year to ensure that polluters are held accountable for the damage they cause, the head of the nation’s legislature said.

Laws will be revised so as to enforce “the strictest systems for protecting the environment,” Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress, told lawmakers yesterday. Zhang is also a member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body.

Authorities will work to “fundamentally reverse environmental deterioration” by strengthening supervision and “inflicting harsher punishments,” he said.

Chinese authorities have pledged greater efforts to protect the environment, with Premier Li Keqiang saying last week the nation was “declaring war” on pollution, as dirty air and water spark public outrage across the country. Seventy-one of 74 cities monitored by the government failed last year to meet air quality standards set for them, according to Vice Environmental Protection Minister Wu Xiaoqing.

Beijing’s air quality index near Tiananmen Square was at 154 at 5 p.m. yesterday, a level the city defines as moderate pollution. At that level, Beijing recommends the young, elderly and those with illnesses reduce outdoor activities.

The level of PM2.5, fine particulate matter that poses the greatest risk to human health, was at 87 micrograms per cubic meter, with the average reading for the past 24-hours at 118. The World Health Organization recommends 24-hour PM2.5 exposure of no higher than 25.

‘Red Light’

Almost 3,000 members of the National People’s Congress are in Beijing for annual plenary sessions that began March 5 and end March 13. Premier Li, in his address to delegates at the opening of the sessions, called pollution “nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.”

China’s gross domestic product has grown more than 100-fold since 1980, transforming the nation into the world’s second-largest economy and its biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The country is paying a heavy environmental price for growth, Vice Environmental Protection Minister Wu said at a March 8 briefing.

“We are suffering in our pursuit of GDP growth,” Wu said. “Our GDP needs to make a contribution to solving our environmental pollution problems.”

The government invested more than 300 billion yuan ($49 billion) on environmental protection in 2013, a 14 percent increase from the previous year, and a similar pace of growth is likely this year, Wu said. The government will also start issuing data for water and soil pollution in June, he said.

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