(2017-03-06)China's skies will one day be "blue again," vowed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday.
In his address to the National People's Congress, Mr. Li pledged to "work faster" to address pollution caused by burning coal, outlining several goals for the coming year and noting that "people are desperately hoping for" more rapid progress to improve air quality.
His remarks reflected how public awareness of, and backlash against, the dangers of pollution has made reducing smog a top priority for Chinese leadership. Increasingly frequent protests have broken out in cities where residents oppose the building of chemical plants and garbage incinerators.
Over the next year or so, Li said, the government intends to step up efforts to upgrade coal-fired power plants to achieve ultra-low emissions and energy conservation, crack down on vehicle emissions by working faster to take old vehicles off the road and encouraging citizens to use clean-energy cars, and prioritize the integration of renewable energy sources into the electricity grid. Integration has proven a challenge as China adds wind and solar power at a faster rate than the grid has expanded, resulting in wasted wind and solar capacity.
Officials who fail to strictly enforce environmental laws and regulations will be held "fully accountable," Li told the delegates Saturday. And, he said, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions would both be cut by 3 percent this year, while the density of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 would fall "markedly" in key areas.
China's air quality has improved since the government first introduced its air pollution action plan in 2013. The country's coal consumption fell in 2016 for the third year in a row, with coal now making up 62 percent of China's total energy consumption mix. But as the government struggles to balance the country’s economic needs with addressing public health and environmental issues, cities such as Beijing still consistently register levels of pollution significantly higher than the recommended safe limit.