We will make our skies blue again — Chinese Premier

BEIJING -- Confronted by severe smog last year, China's government has promised to prioritize environmental protection works with the end goal of making the skies blue again for 1.3 billion Chinese people.

"We will make our skies blue again," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in a 42-page government work report he delivered during Sunday's opening of the Fifth Session of the 12th National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People here.

"Faster progress in work to improve the environment, particularly air quality, is what people are desperately hoping for, and is critical to sustainable development," Li added.

In December 2016, China reportedly suffered its worst air pollution of the year, prompting over 70 Chinese cities to release warnings to citizens after air pollution reached at the levels of particulate matter (PM2.5).

"This year, we will see that sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions are both cut by three percent and that fine particulate matter (PM2.5) density in key areas falls markedly," Li said.

To immediately address the problem, Li said comprehensive steps will be undertaken to reduce non-centralized coal burning operations, promote clean winter heating, replace the use of coal with electricity and natural gas, and shut down all small coal-fired furnaces.

"We will step up work on upgrading coal-fired power plants to achieve ultra-low emissions and energy conservation," Li said, adding upgrading will be done up to 2020.

He said government will also curb pollution in key industries through 24-hour online monitoring.

"We will set a clear deadline by which enterprises must meet required discharge standards, and take resolute law-based action to close down all those that still fail to meet standards after the deadline," Li said.

Li said scrapping all higher-emission vehicles and replace them with clean-energy cards is another option to make China, the world's second largest economy, a country with clean environment.

"We will take effective steps to tackle heavy air pollution. We will strengthen research on the cause of smog to improve the scientific basis and precision of the steps taken," he said.

He said government will also strictly enforce environmental laws and regulations, conduct inspections and to hold violators accountable.

"Illegal dischargers and fraud will be severely penalized," he warned.

The official said work to eliminate smog "is down to every one last of us and success depends on action and commitment."

"As long as the whole of our society keeps trying, we will have more and more blue skies with each passing year," he said.

In his report to more than 3,000 NPC officials and deputies, Li said government took stronger measures against air pollution in 2016.

This resulted in in 5.6-percent decline in sulfur dioxide emissions, a 4-percent cut in nitrogen oxide emissions, and a 9.1-percent drop in the annual averaged of PM2.5 in 74 China's key cities.

Li said other environmental concerns such as water and soil pollution and ecological conservation are also the government's top priority.

"Efforts to prevent and control water and soil pollution will be strengthened and progress will be made in ecological conservation and improvement," he said.

Also in his report, Li said number of newly-registered businesses rose by 24.5 percent or an average of 15,000 new businesses daily.

As of 2015, China's manufacturing industry contributes 40 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) which grew by 6.7 percent last year. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency