Li Keqiang Calls for Patience on China Efforts to Curb Smog

Li Keqiang, set to become China’s next premier, called for the nation’s citizens to have patience as authorities work to reduce pollution in the world’s second-biggest economy.

“Production, construction, consumption cannot come at the price of hurting the environment,” Li said in comments broadcast by state radio yesterday. “The current situation wasn’t created in one or two days, it accumulated over a long time. Solving this problem will also be a long-term process.”

Record levels of pollution in Beijing increased the number of patients visiting hospitals with heart and respiratory ailments and prompted calls for action in state media, including the China Daily, which said the capital was becoming better known for the “Beijing Cough” afflicting its residents than for Peking Duck or Peking Opera. Li is the most-senior official to have commented since smog levels surged on Jan. 12.

Official measures of PM2.5, fine airborne particulates that pose the largest health risk, rose to as high as 993 micrograms per cubic meter in Beijing on Jan. 12, compared with World Health Organization guidelines of no more than 25. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs estimated that the Jan. 12 levels were a record high for the city.

Pollution levels eased in Beijing yesterday after the government expanded efforts to curb emissions by shutting factories and ordering official cars off roads. The light wind that had blown the smog against mountains to Beijing’s north also shifted south and the city saw light snowfall.

PM2.5 Measurements

PM2.5 levels were measured at 108 micrograms per cubic meter at 10 a.m. near Tiananmen Square today, according to the city’s air quality website.

Li was appointed the Communist Party’s second-highest ranking official in November, putting him in line to replace Wen Jiabao as premier in March. Prior to being named a vice premier in 2008, Li served as the Communist Party chief of Liaoning and Henan provinces. He has advocated urbanization as a driver of economic growth.

China must increase enforcement of environmental laws and remove outdated production capacity, Li said yesterday.

The southern Chinese city of Shenzhen plans to add 300 million yuan ($48 million) this year to its fiscal budget for fighting air pollution, the China Business News reported today.

Exposure to PM2.5 contributed to a combined 8,572 premature deaths in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an in 2012, and led to economic losses of $1.08 billion, according to estimates given in a study by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health published Dec. 18. Long-term exposure to fine particulates raises the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as lung cancer, according to the WHO.