More funds to tackle pollution, especially of soil and water

A woman wearing a mask on a polluted day in Handan, Hebei province, China, on Jan 12, 2019.
A woman wearing a mask on a polluted day in Handan, Hebei province, China, on Jan 12, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

China is shifting gears in its fight against pollution, dramatically increasing spending to clean up its soil and waters.

The prevention and control of such pollution will be strengthened in the coming year, said Premier Li Keqiang as he delivered the work report yesterday at the opening of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's annual meeting of Parliament.

Figures from the government Budget released at the start of the legislative meetings show that spending to fight water and soil pollution will increase by 45.3 per cent and 42.9 per cent, reaching 30 billion yuan (S$6 billion) and 5 billion yuan, respectively.

Funds to fight air pollution will go up 25 per cent to 25 billion yuan.

China is the world's top polluter: its 40 years or so of breakneck growth have caused large quantities of pollutants to be emitted, befouling its air, water and soil.

In previous years, efforts to tackle pollution have focused largely on airborne pollutants, an effort that government officials frequently refer to as the "battle for blue skies".

In 2014, Mr Li declared war on pollution during the opening of the NPC meetings that year.

 
 
 

Since then, the country has clamped down on polluters, slapping fines on factories and closing some of them in a bid to clean up the environment. Indicators for the key PM2.5 pollutants, airborne particulates small enough to enter a person's bloodstream, have plunged by as much as 40 per cent.

Mr Li yesterday said the gains made in this area will have to be consolidated, while efforts will be intensified to fight soil and water pollution, where stubborn problems remain.

While businesses must fulfil their responsibilities in protecting the environment, they will also be given a reasonable grace period to do so. The government will avoid the crude approach of simply shutting down polluting firms, said Mr Li.

"Promoting green development is down to every last one of us; its success hinges on action and commitment. We must all work together to create a beautiful and liveable environment for our people," he said.

Mr Li was speaking to almost 3,000 delegates from the NPC at the Great Hall of the People.

Combating pollution is one of three critical battles that President Xi Jinping has identified. The other two are fighting financial risks and poverty.

While Mr Li did note environmental challenges in his report to lawmakers, his main focus was on addressing the economic slowdown. Some observers are wondering if this means there will be a let-up in the fight for a cleaner environment.

"Will the government continue to maintain the same pressure on polluters? This is something everyone is concerned about," said Mr Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-profit environment research organisation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2019, with the headline 'More funds to tackle pollution, especially of soil and water'. Print Edition | Subscribe