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China's smoggy cities: the Communist Party's biggest challenge

China's smoggy cities: the Communist Party's biggest challenge

For a long time in China, pollution was a dirty word. Beijing wanted the world to focus on the successes of its economic miracle rather than its significant costs. The smog-choked cities, toxic rivers and residents taking to the streets in protective masks were not the story China wanted told. As a result, there was little or no news in the state-controlled media about its growing environmental crisis.

China facing up to smog

But 2016 finds China amid what appears to be a very real effort to clean up its act. Last year Chinese Premier Li Keqiang branded pollution "a blight on people's quality of life," and pledged that China "would fight it with all its might." On 22 April, Beijing signed the Paris Agreement at the United Nations and has promised to ratify the wide-ranging deal before the G20 summit in September.

In a country where freedom of speech is so heavily curtailed, it is still not open season in discussing pollution in China, but the serious decline in air quality has forced the government to act. Chinese restrictions on the internet may enable the government to deny its history, but even the Communist Party would struggle to persuade the Chinese people that a smog-filled sky is blue.

Red Alert

In December, Beijing had its first-ever smog 'red alert' that, on the one hand, meant that the government was willing to at least admit that pollution was still a problem in China, on the other, it demonstrated that things in China remained very bad.

China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, with coal responsible for 75% of power generation in the country. As far back as 1997, the World Bank was warning that "hundreds of thousands of deaths" had been caused by industrial air pollution and by 2007 it was reported that only 1% of urban Chinese were breathing air deemed safe by the European Union (EU).

Green development

But those bullish on the progress of Beijing at tackling pollution across the country point to a commitment to reform at the very highest level. President Xi Jinping adopted "green development" as one of the five key principles of China's 13th Five Year Plan this year, and there appears to be a clear push towards encouraging and promoting green technology both on a micro and macro level.

Source: International Business Times  By Orlando Crowcroft

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