China outdoing developed nations in controlling pollution: Minister

Chinese Minister of Environmental Protection Chen Jining speaks during a press conference in Beijing on March 11, 2016.
Chinese Minister of Environmental Protection Chen Jining speaks during a press conference in Beijing on March 11, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China, often hit by choking smog that blankets the populous east and north, is doing a better job at controlling pollution than developed countries at similar stages of development, the environment minister said on Friday (March 11).

China has been under increasing pressure to halt pollution of its air, soil and water caused by more than three decades of economic growth, and at this year's full session of parliament it promised to cap energy use and draft new laws to decontaminate its soil.

Beijing frequently features near the top of the list of China's most polluted cities, as emissions from vehicles and heavy industry combine with weather conditions to raise smog levels. The worst bouts of air pollution tend to coincide with periods of low wind.

Large parts of China suffered a three-week bout of heavy smog in November and December, but the situation had improved in the first two months of 2016, Minister Chen Jining told reporters.

Brushing off suggestions that the improvement only came about because of heavy winds, Mr Chen said China had already made huge efforts to tackle pollution and acid rain.

"We have solved the problems earlier and better than developed countries," he said. "I believe that on the treatment of smog, we will also do it well and our development will become increasingly green." China said this week that it would aim to pass a law aimed at tackling soil pollution, which has raised concerns about food safety.

Mr Chen said the legislation was taking a long time because the issue was complex, but he insisted that even without the law, the government was working hard to improve agricultural land.

He also said China was drafting a law allowing it to levy an"environmental tax" on its biggest polluters. He said the aim was not to increase the tax burden on enterprises, but to create a system that would encourage them to reduce emissions.

He said China would also work to tackle the problem of "dispersed coal", or coal burnt directly by households or small businesses, where emissions are not controlled.

According to industry experts, around 400 million tonnes of coal are sold on the market every year for direct combustion, with emissions five times the level of power plants. Parliamentary delegates have this year called for tighter restrictions on the sale and distribution of coal for direct combustion.

"Overall, we will need a long period of time to adjust our energy structure, so we need to positively promote clean energy... and at the same time promote the clean use of coal," Mr Chen said.