Paulson Says Pollution Could Overwhelm China as Cities Expand

Coal pollution and global warming in Linfen China
A man wears a mask as he rides a bike to work in the polluted town of Linfen.

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said China’s leaders are serious about tackling environmental problems yet could be overwhelmed as hundreds of millions more people flock to cities in coming decades.

China’s leaders “care about climate change and they understand it and are seriously working on it -- that’s the good news,” Paulson said Thursday during an event in Seattle. “The bad news is they’ve taken all kinds of actions, but they’ve been blown away by the explosive, breakneck growth.”

Paulson has been traveling the globe to promote his latest book, “Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower.” He has said Asia’s largest economy is “running out of steam” and risks a “day of reckoning” if leaders don’t adopt a new model for municipal finances.

The book also addresses environmental challenges facing the country. On Thursday, Paulson called China’s urbanization policy “broken” because it creates pollution and stress. He estimated that the number of people in cities there could surge by 300 million over the next 25 years from about 650 million now.

“The dirty air is killing people,” Paulson said. China’s leaders “don’t believe the Communist Party will stay in power unless they make progress” on pollution, he said.

Paulson, 69, was chairman of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. before serving as Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush from 2006 to 2009. He appeared in conversation Thursday with Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella.

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